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Plasticity and the ageing mind: an exemplar of the bio-cultural orchestration of brain and behaviour

  • PAUL B. BALTES (a1) and TANIA SINGER (a1)

Abstract

Genetic interventions will improve the genome, but they will never make a human being out of the human animal

Using research on the ageing mind, support is offered for the concept of bio-cultural sciences. The bio-cultural sciences highlight the notion that human behaviour is the joint and co-constructive expression of biological–genetic and cultural–societal processes and conditions. The genome determines the ontogeny of the brain; however, so does the cultural–social environment and individual behaviour. The study of the ageing mind illustrates this principle of bio-cultural co-construction. One fertile theory distinguishes between the declining biology-driven cognitive mechanics and the maintained or even increasing culture-driven cognitive pragmatics. Beginning in early adulthood, the plasticity of the cognitive mechanics decreases with advancing age, but the cognitive pragmatics exploit the opportunities of culture and the experiential and interpersonal contexts in which people develop and, therefore, they can exhibit lifelong positive expressions. Professional expertise, artistic competence, social–emotional intelligence and wisdom are examples of late-life potentials in the cognitive pragmatics. This view does not exclude the fact that, in the oldest (Fourth Age), ageing losses become more prominent and affect the cognitive pragmatics as well. A general developmental theory is presented that illustrates how, within the limits offered by biological- and culture-based plasticity, successful ageing is accomplished by the orchestration of three behavioural processes: selection, optimization, and compensation.

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