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Surprising Science

Certain Mental Powers Peak Much Later in Life

It's widely thought that there's an age when you're at your mental prime, and then begin the decline. Not so, according to researchers. Different ages means reaching new peaks in your mental abilities.

It’s widely thought that there’s an age when you’re at your mental prime, and then begin the decline. Many aspiring novelists thought for a time that they had to crank out a great work before they hit 30, but recent research dispelled those notions. Most great authors were in their 40s and 50s when they penned their breakthrough book. For mental prowess as a whole, however, researchers are finding certain abilities get stronger or weaker at different ages.

Joshua Hartshorne and Laura Germine were able to create a sample pool of tens of thousands of people through the online websites and — quite a large set of data. These sites allowed researchers to test people’s abilities to perceive emotions from photos, vocabulary skills, and short-term memory. Try the tests out for yourself; some of them are quite difficult (depending on your age).

Provided that the participants gave an accurate age, the results indicate that mental abilities vary by age. Hartshorne said to MIT News:

“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.”

For instance, the ability to identify emotions peaks between 40 and 60; vocabulary peaks around 60 or 70 years of age; and visual working memory peaked at 25, while working memory for numbers peaked around the mid-30s.

“The complexities described in this article provide a rich, challenging set of phenomena for theories of development, maturation, and aging.”

Read the full research paper at Psychological Science or read the cliff-notes at BPS.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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