the studies of Disproving Cognitive Decline

Rhetorical Analysis Essay
Bold, Underlined Text = Major point or part of the essay
Color Key: Intro or Conclusion Discussing “Purpose” Discussing “Uses of Evidence”

Different Words, Same Meaning: An Analysis of a Popular Article and Academic article on the studies of Disproving Cognitive Decline

Writers can write about the same exact topic, have the same purpose, and have the same facts but their message can still be written in very different ways. Different
audiences and situations will lead to very specific ways to convince varying audiences about the same topic. In the instance of a popular article reporting the
findings of an academic article, the popular article must cater to a wide audience with limited or no knowledge on a scientific topic, whereas academic articles cater
to a highly intellectualized community. As ideas, texts, research, and other sources of information cater to different audiences, there is a danger that the original
intent of an academic article will not be reflected in the popular article. This may cause the audience to have a distorted view of the research. However, not all
popular articles distort findings of research articles. The popular article, “Your Mind’s Not Getting Older; It’s Truly Getting Better” by Whitmore (2014), accurately
represents the studies and findings of Michael Ramscar et al(2014) in, “The Myth of Cognitive Decline: Non-Linear Dynamic Lifelong Learning” about the myths of age
causing mental decline. Although each writer uses different rhetorical elements in order to speak to a different audience, Whitmore’s article demonstrates
understanding of the research and is able to promote the same purpose as Ramscar et al’s study wishes to claim.

To accurately represent Ramscar et al’s study, Whitmore must demonstrate an understanding of the purpose and arguments of the original study to her audience with
language that they will understand. In the academic article, Ramscar and his colleagues seek to disprove the belief that with age, comes mental decline. They replace
this belief with a different explanation that as one ages, the factors that may indicate mental decline, is actually proof that our brains have larger amounts of
information which is more difficult to process as we get older. Ramscar et al’s stance is clearly stated in the abstract, which says “our results indicate that older
adults’ performance on cognitive tests reflects the predictable consequences of learning on information-processing and not cognitive decline.”(Ramscar et. al., 5). We
know that this is his stance because of the words “our results indicate.” Here, a hedge is used to show his stance and purpose. Whitmore demonstrates her understanding
of Ramscar et al’s study by explaining the concept with a verbal illustration:

“Their basic argument is that as you get older, your storehouse of knowledge and
experience continue to grow exponentially. As a result, it takes you longer to sift through
all that information you’re trying to recall one specific item. Like a crowded file drawer,
each item becomes more difficult to pull out compared to a drawer that’s nearly
empty.” (Whitmore, 2014).

As you may observe, the use of language is different. Ramscar et al’s study used terms like “cognitive tests” and “information-processing.” This would make sense to a
group of scientists working in the cognitive sciences field, but may be unfamiliar to a general audience. In contrast, although Whitmore uses common language and takes
on a different tone than the study, she is able to employ a metaphor that compares a “crowded file drawer” to express the same idea that slower brain processing in
older people is a result of having more information information in their brains, rather than a sign of mental decline, which is termed the results of “information-
processing” in the academic study. Her language is appropriate because Whitmore has a more general audience that would appreciate a more entertaining and artful
explanation to difficult scientific topics. It is therefore less formal and methodical. While catering to her audience, Whitmore clearly shows that she understands the
results and argument that Ramscar is trying to get across. This is important because demonstrating that a writer understands the original author’s purpose will
indicate a correct representation of the research.

Beyond the contrasts in language used to appeal to the different audiences, there are other differences to consider when asking if Whitmore’s article can be used to
accurately portray Ramscar et al’s study. For example, there are clear differences in the way that evidence is presented in the two articles. However, these
differences still enable Whitmore to convey similar arguments based on the study.

For evidence, Ramscar et al’s academic article focuses on critiquing the flaws and limitations of former testing strategies as proof of mental decline. For example, in
the results and discussion section of a case study on a letter classification task, Ramscar et al’s study seeks to give evidence that slower responses from older
adults does not mean mental decline by disproving the common interpretation of a the test. The study does this by first using clarifying definitions of theories which
help his audience know what his stance is by describing “information theory– which defines the workings of the information-processing systems that symbolize our age
and which begat the term “information processing”– is at heart, just a set of methods for formalizing the uncertainty in distribution. Information is a property of
systems, and processing demands are measured in relation to them(MacKay, 2003).” In the following sentences, Ramscar et al contends that: “ In letter classification,
the relevant system comprises the task, the subject, and, crucially, what the subject knows. Because psychometric tests neglect this knowledge, they are incapable of
measuring information processing in this task.” (Ramscar, 18). Here, Ramscar et al uses definitions to establish the basis of deductive reasoning because deductive
reasoning is common to coming to conclusions in science. So this type of reasoning will be familiar to the science audience he is speaking to. He then uses deductive
reasoning to focus his argument to disprove the tests because the scientists he is writing to are the people that may have done research claiming the opposite view.

The popular article by Whitmore, on the other hand, presents the same case study to show slower processing does not mean mental decline, however it highlights
different aspects. Whitmore explains:

“Older adults take longer on this task, according to Ramscar study, because they’ve
formed more paired-letter associations throughout their lives. For example, if you’re
seeing the letters “a and r vs. “A and q,” you might take a hair longer on the A-r pair if
you’re older because that pair brings up an association that a younger person doesn’t
have.” (Whitmore, 2014)

The way the evidence is presented focuses on connecting a certain methodology to the results of the test. It would not make sense for Whitmore to focus on the same
discussion of disproving tests because this is not relevant to her audience. The audience that Whitmore writes to may have no former knowledge on the subject or formed
strong opinions about the topic and would not need a detailed description of test methodology. Rather, the evidence Whitmore uses is based on the credibility of
Ramscar et al’s study by saying “according to Ramscar” and a reader engaged rhetorical situation to show how the Ramscar et al conclusion comes to makes sense.
Although the methods of presenting evidence of the arguments are different, Whitmore is able to summarize the evidence and highlight the main points that the study
wanted to prove with the case study.

While both writing about disproving the myth of “age is mental decline,” the way Ramscar’s and Whitmore’s works are written are vastly different. We know that
Whitmore’s writing stems off the work of Ramscar’s studies because of her frequent reference to Ramscar. In adapting Ramscar’s studies to inform a general audience of
whom may have little knowledge on the subject of mental decline, Whitmore must change the way language and evidence is used to persuade her audience. Changing these
elements may seem to alter the original purpose of Ramscar’s study. However, by comparing and contrasting Ramscar’s original study to Whitmore’s popular article,
Whitmore shows a clear understanding of the purpose of Ramscar’s study despite different uses of language and evidence. In showing understanding of purpose, Whitmore’s
is able to articulate the same purpose as Ramscar’s study and therefore aaccurately portrays Ramscar’s study. Identifying these rhetorical differences in Whitmore and
Ramscar et al’s articles may encourage readers to also want to be able to critically analyze a popular article to it’s source academic article in a similar fashion as
this discussion seeks to do. Readers of popular articles should be aware the differences between rhetorical situations such as the audience in order to determine
whether an accurate representation of information is portrayed and ensure correct views about information presented.

References:

Ramscar, M., Hendrix, P., Shaoul, C., Milin, P., & Baayen, H. (2014). The Myth of Cognitive Decline: Non-Linear Dynamics of Lifelong Learning, Topics in Cognitive
Science 6 (2014) 5–42 DOI: 10.1111/tops.12078

Susan, W. (2014, 02 18). Your mind’s not getting older; it’s truly getting better. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201402/your-
mind-s-not-getting-older-it-s-truly-getting-better

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