MadSci Network: General Biology

Re: at what age do men and women reach their intellectual prime?

Date: Fri Mar 5 09:42:14 1999
Posted By: Deborah Ader, Faculty, Psychiatry and Medical and Clinical Psychology, USUHS
Area of science: General Biology
ID: 920521665.Gb

Well, that is an interesting and complicated question you ask, and there is 
no simple answer. For one thing, what does "intellectual peak" or 
"intellectual prime" really mean? Intellectual ability or performance is 
made up of many different things (like verbal ability, mechanical ability, 
musical ability, and ability to remember things), and there are many 
different things that can affect people's performance. For example, I bet 
you score better on tests in school if you eat a good breakfast that 
morning and had a good night's sleep the night before, and I bet you 
wouldn't do so well if you had a headache or a cold or were really mad at 
your teacher or the kid sitting next to you in class. With so many things 
to take into account, it would be impossible to say that there is a typical 
age at which people reach their intellectual peak. If you want to talk 
specifically about short-term memory, then I guess the answer would be that 
probably by the time kids are in their teens, or maybe even earlier, they 
have reached the full capacity that people have to remember things they 
have just heard or read. Then short-term memory pretty much stays the same 
(for example, it is a general rule that people have the ability to remember 
five to nine items at a time). People can lose the ability to remember that 
much in short-term memory for a number of reasons, like illness, damamge to 
the brain, or medication side-effects. But that level of memory mostly 
stays the same, for both men and women, unless something goes wrong.

I hope this answers your question. How thinking and and memory work are 
very interesting areas of study, and many psychologists and neuroscientists 
do research to understand these things better, but there's still a lot we 
don't know. 

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