At what age are you smartest?

Different ages different abilities

When do you hit your mental peak? Plenty of studies say it's in early adulthood and some suggest late adolescence.

A new paper in Psychological Science by researchers from Harvard University and the Center for Human Genetic Research in Massachusetts has a different answer: Some cognitive functions peak while you’re still in your teens, but others keep improving until your forties – or even later.

What skills peak early? Short-term memory tasks, such as retelling stories read by the experimenter, searching for pictures and recalling words missing from a list, peak while you’re in your teens.

Skills that require some mental processing of remembered data – like tapping a set of cubes in reverse order from how the experimenter tapped them – peak on average in your early twenties.

But skills that use all the expertise and knowledge we accumulate as we go through life, known as “crystallised intelligence”, peak later. This includes abilities such as defining words, performing arithmetic and explaining why things happen. These skills seem not to peak until after age 40.

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On one measure, vocabulary skills didn’t peak until people’s late sixties or early seventies. Which, you know, makes, like, total intuitive sense.

The researchers conclude that not only is there no age at which we perform at our peak on all mental tasks, there may not even be an age at which we are best at most tasks.

Source: “When does cognitive functioning peak?” by J Harshorne and L Germine, Psychological Science, March 13, 2015.

This article is from the June issue of INTHEBLACK.

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