The Talents Of A Middle-Aged Brain

Last month, I heard the tail-end of an interview with Barbara Strauch, the health and medical science editor for The New York Times, who had just published The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain. I was intrigued by the scientific research she referenced on middle-aged brains -- brains between the ages of 40 and 65. Alas, I was multi-tasking and before I could jot down some notes, something else came along to distract my own middle-aged brain. I forgot all about that brain research. Until last week, when someone gave me a copy of her book.

I'm not going to provide a review but if you're marketing to Boomers, who are most definitely in possession of a middle-aged brain, it's worth picking up -- if only for the scientific research she cites.

Contrary to what is commonly believed, the middle-aged brain has some surprising capabilities and advantages to a younger brain:

  • Better at inductive reasoning, problem solving and actually getting to a solution than younger brains
  • Better at complex reasoning
  • Better at sizing up a situation - a/k/a seeing the "big" picture
  • Social expertise -- i.e., the ability to assess the "bad guy" from the "good guy"
  • Is more empathetic
  • Gets the gist of an argument better, faster
  • Uses more than one side of the brain to store and retrieve information -- what scientists call bi-lateralization and Strauch calls "two brains"



And our middle-aged brains are better at all of this because we produce greater amounts of myelin, which helps facilitate the information flow from brain cell to brain cell by building neural connections that help us understand the world around us.

To be sure, there are downsides to the middle-aged brain:

  • It is slower to process information
  • It is more easily distracted
  • And, yes, more forgetful but not for autobiographical (e.g., the memories that define our personal lives) or habitual activities

Implications for Marketers and Advertisers

While I found the research fascinating -- and reassuring -- I was also struck by its implications for how we market and advertise to Boomers:

  • "Dumbing down" is not needed: the middle-aged brains' ability to process complex ideas, employ inductive reasoning and problem solving suggests an opportunity to communicate and market complex ideas and products to Boomers. This is particularly relevant for those developing and marketing financial products. Too often, there is a tendency to dumb down this information as if consumers can't grasp the complexities. While this might be true for the younger brain, research suggests otherwise for the middle-aged brain.
  • Get to the point: While brain processing might start out a little slower, the middle-aged brain's ability to grasp the gist of an argument faster and better suggests long, drawn-out explanations are not needed or helpful.
  • Tap into empathy to get attention: with more personal experiences to draw upon, middle-aged brains are more empathetic. And, empathy elicits emotions, which research also suggests impact message recall and purchase decisions.
  • Minimize auditory and visual distractions: Since the middle-aged brain is more apt to be distracted -- or fall into a "default" daydreaming mode, as scientists call it -- minimize the auditory and visual distractions in communications. Those distractions work against a middle-aged brain's ability to focus on a marketing message.

Understanding middle-age brain functions provides important insights on marketing to Boomers during the middle-aged years.

2 comments about "The Talents Of A Middle-Aged Brain ".
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  1. Ruth Barrett from, May 10, 2010 at 1:10 p.m.

    If it was just an issue of "understanding" that would be one thing, but many firms, as advertisers and employers, now have workforces that are not diverse in any way when it comes to race, gender, and age, particularly at the level of director and above.

  2. Janis Mccabe from jmod35, May 10, 2010 at 9:06 p.m.

    For the entire economy, this is very important information. It's specific to middle-agers, but it applies to intelligent others as well.

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