Do We Really ‘Lose Our Filter’ as We Age?

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From Neuroscience News:

Many of us will have experienced some unexpected honesty from the older people in our lives. Whether it’s grandma telling you your outfit is unflattering or grandpa saying he doesn’t like the meal you’ve prepared, we often explain it away by saying “Oh, don’t mind grandpa, he’s just lost his filter”.

But do we really have a “filter”, and do we lose it as we get older?

What do we mean when we say ‘filter’?

When someone has no “filter”, it means they say things without thinking about their audience. They may blurt out something rude, inappropriate, or unkind, without considering the likely consequences.

“Filters” are an important part of our everyday social interactions. A brief Monday morning chat with your boss is more complex than it may seem. For example, you might stop yourself from telling them they smell awful after their morning bike ride into the office and should’ve showered before your meeting. You might consider telling them about the fungal infection you discovered on your toenail over the weekend but decide against it. Of course, what you do or do not say also depends on how well you know them and what’s considered socially acceptable in your workplace.

Your “filter” relies on cognitive processes such as inhibitory control, which stops you from saying the first thing that pops into your mind. It also relies on social cognition, which refers to the ability to understand and predict other people’s behaviours, thoughts, and intentions. This helps us to recognise what behaviour is appropriate in a particular social setting and to adapt our behaviour based on this.

The prefrontal cortex, which is located within the frontal lobes of our brains, acts as our “filter”, helping us say and do things in a socially appropriate way. When this part of the brain isn’t functioning properly, we might act as though we’ve lost our “filter”.

What happens to our ‘filter’ as we age?

As we get older, our brains start to shrink. This is a normal part of the aging process known as brain atrophy. It affects how well our brain cells can communicate with one another. Importantly, brain atrophy doesn’t happen to all areas of the brain at once. It is particularly noticeable in the frontal lobes.

Researchers have linked age-related shrinking in the frontal lobes with declines in inhibitory control and social cognition. Studies have also found older adults respond differently to socially awkward situations than younger adults.

For example, older adults have more difficulty recognising when someone’s said something embarrassing or tactless, and show poorer understanding of sarcasm.

So as we get older, normal aging processes in our brains may make it much easier for things to slip out through our “filters”.

Link to the rest at Neuroscience News

PG thought this might be of assistance to those who are building an older character.

6 thoughts on “Do We Really ‘Lose Our Filter’ as We Age?”

  1. I think it’s more a case of, as we get older we choose not to censor ourselves according to someone else’s whims, and we have less emotional investment in their judgement of our actions.

  2. Filters have a lot to do with self-interest. The person using a given filter is acting to further his own interests. When those interests change, one can expect the same filter to deliver different results.

  3. is the loss of the filter due to ‘the brain shrinking’?

    or are they just more comfortable with themselves and care less about what others think?

    or is it that they grew up in a time when you had to think less about who your audience is and so have always had less of a ‘filter’ and it’s the current society that’s expecting them to behave differently?

    In any case, for those writing, it is useful to keep in mind that different people have different backgrounds and different behavior norms. Culture changes over time, and community (down to different neighborhoods in big cities, but city vs country, different states/countries, etc)

    • And different professions…
      …which runs both ways: people with different backgrounds and cultures gravitate towards different professions at different rates and the experiences that come from those life experiences in turn impacts their worldview and culture. And this feedback runs down the generations.

      There is a lot of truth in the old saying that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the treem

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