Different Cognitive Skills Peak at Different Times over Our Lifespans, Research Finds

By Perry, Susan | MinnPost.com, June 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Different Cognitive Skills Peak at Different Times over Our Lifespans, Research Finds


Perry, Susan, MinnPost.com


Here's some promising news for anybody who's aging (and that, of course, is all of us): A recent series of crowd-sourced experiments suggest that different aspects of fluid intelligence -- our ability to think abstractly, reason quickly and solve problems -- peak at different periods during adulthood.

In other words, our brains do not, as previously believed, reach a so-called cognitive peak when were in our 20s and then start an inevitable descent. Some kinds of fluid intelligence actually improve with age.

Or, as Joshua Hartshorne, a postdoctoral researcher in computational cognitive science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the co-authors of a recent study published on this topic, explained earlier this year: "At any given age, you're getting better at some things, you're getting worse at some other things, and you're at a plateau at some other things. There's probably not one age at which you're peak on most things, much less all of them."

Independent trajectories

Science writer Kayt Sukel describes Hartshorne's study (published in March in Psychological Science) in an article last week for the Dana Foundation:

The [researchers] collected data from nearly 50,000 participants who logged in to play [at the websites gameswithwords.org and testmybrain.org], and found that different cognitive skills peaked at different times over the lifespan. For example, while short term memory appears to peak at 25 and start to decline at 35, emotional perception peaks nearly two decades later, between 40 and 50. Almost every independent cognitive ability tested appears to have its own trajectory.

The study also included a vocabulary test. …

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