The ability to recognise other people’s emotional states often does not reach a peak until people are into their forties or fifties.
That’s one of the findings from research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Massachusetts General Hospital into the impact of age on what is described as “fluid intelligence” – the ability to think quickly and recall information.
It had traditionally been assumed this fluid intelligence peaked around the age of 20 before steadily declining. But the research found a more subtle reality.
The research found the ability to recognise faces improves until around the age of 30, when it begins to decline. But evaluating others’ emotional state peaked reached a peak almost one to two decades later.
In addition, short-term memory tended to improve until the age of 25, and begins to get worse after the age of 35. A separate test also found vocabulary peaks in the late sixties to early seventies, not the late forties.
Joshua Hartshorne, postdoctoral fellow at MIT, said: “At any given age, you’re getting better at some things, you’re getting worse at some others, 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.”
Traditionally it has been difficult to understand how cognitive skills develop with time, because it has been difficult to get large numbers of people above University-age and under 65 to come to a lab and be tested. Instead, they used two websites – gameswithwords.org and testmybrain.org – which feature tests that can be completed in a few minutes. The study gathered data from more than 50,000 people.
The findings were recently published in the journal Psychological Science.