If you think you’ve already witnessed the rise and fall of your peak self, researchers have news for you: As far as your intelligence is concerned, you likely have several new highs to look forward to. Some of them, like the ability to read others’ emotions or do basic arithmetic, don’t arrive until middle age or beyond.
“At almost any given age, most of us are getting better at some things and worse at others,” Joshua Hartshorne, an MIT cognitive science researcher and the lead author of a study looking at how intelligence changes as we age, told Business Insider.
The team behind that study quizzed thousands of people aged 10-90 on their ability to do things like remember lists of words, recognize faces, learn names, and do math. Their results suggest that no matter your age, there’s almost always a new peak on the horizon.
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Overall brain processing power and detail memory peaks around age 18.
Scientists use a test called Digit Symbol Substitution to assess everything from dementia to brain damage. It requires people to use a number of cognitive skills at once — including processing speed, sustained attention, and visual skills. The tool, which typically involves pairing numbers with symbols, is also part of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, one of the most widely used measures of intelligence.
Hartshorne employed the test in his study of how intelligence changes over time and found that participants’ performance generally peaked in their late teens.