As in: expecting a free pet when it’s ‘raining cats and dogs’
New RUG research has shown that language skills deteriorate from the age of forty, and from that age on, people have more difficulty grasping the meaning of figurative language. As reported by the GIC.
This is evident from research by Amélie la Roi, who recently obtained her PhD on this subject at the University of Groningen. She investigated how elderly people process and understand figurative expressions, such as aphorisms. Language processing changes slowly with age, says La Roi, but it remains very efficient into old age.
Many expressions can be understood both literally and figuratively. You can interpret ‘don’t hide your light under a bushel’ as a way to save electricity. But most people with a knowledge of English vernacular understand its figurative meaning of not hiding your own abilities.
La Roi’s research shows that from the age of 40, adults become slower to suppress the literal meanings of expressions, which is necessary to bring out their figurative meaning. In addition, older people appeared to be slower than young adults in activating the figurative meaning of expressions.
According to the researcher, little is known about the way in which language skills change. Her research now forms an interesting starting point for further research into cognitive aging caused by diseases of old age such as dementia. “And now that the effects of cognitive aging on language processing begin around the age of 40, it is important to include middle-aged adults in such research.”