Brain has strong points at different ages
For people over 40 who fear that their mind is slowly failing them, a new study suggests that older brains are better than younger brains in some ways. While some types of thinking skills begin to decline as the brain ages, researchers found that other types of skills don't peak until middle age or even later.
The study, which looked at almost 50,000 people, raises the prospect that people in their 40s and 50s do a better job of translating emotional signals from other people, while seniors have more overall knowledge. Young adults, meanwhile, think faster and have more short-term memory.
"There is no peak age for brain function. It all depends on the particular aspect you are looking at," said study co-author Laura Germine, a postdoctoral researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital's Center for Human Genetic Research, in Boston. The findings are based in part on an analysis of the responses of slightly over 48,500 people who took online tests on the websites gameswithwords.org and testmybrain.org.
The researchers report that various thinking skills peaked, in general, at different times in life. On average, people think the fastest around age 18 and 19, while their short-term memory peaks at around age 25, and the ability to read people's emotional states is best in the 40s and 50s.
"Crystalized intelligence," a measurement of accumulated knowledge that's based on vocabulary tests, doesn't tend to peak until people are in their late 60s or early 70s.
The study has some weaknesses. For one thing, it didn't follow individual people over time but is instead a snapshot at one point in the lives of people of varying ages. And it didn't include people who aren't Internet-savvy, although the researchers also analyzed statistics from studies that did not involve online tests.