The risk of ‘oversharing’ in conversation increases with age, a study has shown.
The practice which involves providing the listener with too much irrelevant detail can also lead to situations where older people reveal too much private information about themselves.
Tests carried out on 100 people, aged from 17 to 84 years old, revealed thinking skills influencing how we respond to people’s points of view deteriorate with age.
Linguists from the University of Edinburgh and Northwestern University in Illinois used a series of computerised listening and visual tests to assess thinking skills.
They tested how participants’ attention skills – the ability to concentrate on one thing and ignore another – influenced their ability to consider a partner’s perspective in conversation.
They completed two listening tests to assess two types of attention skills.
Firstly, they tracked inhibition – the ability to focus and ignore distracting information.
Then they monitored switching – shifting focus between two different sounds and filter relevant information.
Researchers asked participants to describe one of four objects to a partner who could only see three of the objects. The researchers found older participants were more likely to mention details about the hidden object, revealing irrelevant information to their partner.
The team found an age-related decline in attention switching skills, and that this ability determined how older adults responded to their partner’s perspective.
For younger adults, their ability to filter distracting information was what determined their ability to consider others’ perspectives more effectively.
Madeleine Long, lead researcher at the University of Edinburgh’s school of philosophy, psychology and language sciences, said being aware of who we are talking to and their previous knowledge of what is being discussed is a crucial to conversation.
“The study identified two attentional functions that influence whether we consider another’s point of view and how that changes as we age.
“This is particularly important for older adults who are more susceptible to revealing private information.
“We hope these findings can be used to design targeted training that helps older adults improve these skills and avoid embarrassing and potential risky communicative errors.”
The study is published in the journal Cognition.
An Age Scotland spokersperson said: “There are certain situations where is it very important that older people do not ‘overshare’, including when they are regrettably targeted by scammers.
“We work with Police Scotland and other organisations to ensure older people are aware of the need to keep certain information secure, and any research which helps promote this kind of activity is welcome.
“However we understand this is only one study and recognise that this is area where further research could be beneficial.”