If you have recently found yourself struggling to solve your usual crosswords or your kids’ maths problems, don’t worry: your intelligence is not fading away and you’re brain is not going down the sunset boulevard. You might not be as quick and smart as you used to be, but according to science, as we get older, diminishing speed and spatial awareness are balanced by having more knowledge and experience to draw on to solve problems.
Of course, your Intelligence Quotient (IQ) can change with age but knowing that it’s just “a score originating from a set of standardized tests to measure a person’s reasoning ability in relation to their age group” should make you put things into a different perspective.
Nowadays, what we consider intelligence is not only the capacity of working out through logic or mathematically complex subjects but also the ability to understand and adapt to the environment by using our inherited abilities and learned knowledge. In particular, according to neuroscientists, as we grow older we might increase what they call crystallized intelligence or the ability to use acquired knowledge (such as facts learned at school, specific motor skills or muscle memory) to solve a problem. And that also includes that spark which allows us to evaluate other people’s emotional states.
It’s important to distinguish between different meanings of the word intelligence – explains Kevin McGrew, director of the Institute for Applied Psychometrics– There is biological intelligence, or what is typically defined as neural efficiency. Then there’s psychometric intelligence – your measured IQ score – which is an indirect and imperfect method of estimating biological intelligence.
Also, studies have confirmed that the brain seems to change continuously, depending on different stimulations. Ability peaks seen in more mature people could be the result of better education, further reading, and greater opportunities for mental nourishment.
In the end, the IQ test does not necessarily define how intelligent a person is, rather it measures how well an individual does on a particular task. If your score changes over the years, it’s not because of any real change in your general intelligence, it’s more likely that’s because different tests may be used to measure different mixtures of abilities.
Of course, you can always fine-tune your neural efficiency and improve your cognitive functions however (unless you have a degenerative condition such as Alzheimer‘s, are on particular prescribed medications or have alcohol-related problems), there is no specific reason why there should be a sudden decline or increase in your IQ levels when past your 50s.
If someone makes you have doubts about your intelligence, return that remark to the sender. Everyone has a form of intelligence (or even multiple ones); it’s the way we use it that makes the whole difference.