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The Three Areas Of Intelligence That Peak In Your 50s

2 min read

Some abilities that we’ve had when we were young are no longer the same. Yet there are other ways in which we are sharper and smarter than we used to be. Some abilities peak and begin to decline around high school graduation; some abilities plateau in early adulthood, beginning to decline in subjects’ 30s and still, others do not peak until subjects reach their 40s or later. In particular, Harvard – MIT University recently uncovered three areas of intelligence that peak in your middle age.

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 – said Joshua Hartshorne, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and one of the paper’s authors. There’s probably not one age at which you’re peak on most things, much less all of them.

Mature Players Do It Better

As the American business magazine ‘Inc.’ notes, the Hartshorne study examined a number of different brain processes that make up intelligence, rather than viewing intelligence as a single measure as has traditionally been done. These findings motivate a nuanced theory of maturation and age-related decline, in which multiple, dissociable factors differentially affect different domains of cognition.

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Number crunching

While people tend to forget the math that they learned in school, the ability to do arithmetic in your head increases as you age, peaking in the mid-50s.


As people age into their 50s, they accumulate useful knowledge on a broader range of subjects and tend to get better at understanding complex, interrelated subjects, as well as explaining such concepts to others. As an aside, this explains why people in their 40s and 50s make better mentors than their younger counterparts, even if the youngsters are themselves quite brilliant.


While there are examples of authors, composers, and artists who do their best work when young (George Lucas comes to mind), it’s far more common for highly creative people to do their best work while they’re in their 40s and 50s (e.g., just about every other filmmaker).

The thing is there’s no single “smartest” age—people of different ages are best at different things. Knowledge is the key. People who are middle-aged and older tend to know more than young adults, by virtue of having been around longer, and score higher on vocabulary tests, crossword puzzles and other measures of so-called crystallized intelligence.

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