Good News: You are Growing Older and Smarter
“In youth we learn; in age we understand.” -Marie von Ebner Eschenbach
Contrary to common myths, people over fifty and beyond remain sharp and smart. Older people generally exhibit slower mental reactions and are often less efficient in processing new information. That relates to the area of fluid intelligence. Yet, older people continue to score high in crystallized intelligence, experiential intelligence and emotional intelligence.
What is Fluid Intelligence?
Fluid intelligence relates to the ability and speed of processing new information based on perceptual skills. That is the ability to analyze, interpret and give meaning to what is seen, and memory. It involves thinking and reasoning abstractly, such as the act of solving crossword puzzle. Studies have shown that fluid intelligence is most affected by an older nervous system; in other words, the decline of fluid intelligence may start in middle age, more sharply into late adulthood[i]. But, good news follows.
What is Crystallized Intelligence?
Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use accumulated knowledge to make judgments and solve problems; for example, a physician needs to use his medical knowledge and his patient’s test results to make a diagnosis. As a person becomes enriched with new experiences and social interactions, crystallized intelligence actually increases, improving as we age[ii].
Mayor Hazel McCallion supports this observation of crystallized intelligence carrying into advanced years. The mayor of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, is the longest-serving mayor in Canadian history. Mayor Hazel took office in 1978. Now in her 90s, she actively runs the city and contributes to the well-being of her constituents.
What is Experiential Intelligence?
Experiential intelligence encompasses insight and creativity. It is associated with one’s ability to create, invent, discover, and imagine. Experiential intelligence is built upon accumulated knowledge and experience in different areas, covering both formal and informal learning environments over the years. Experiential intelligence can be increased through stimulating learning environments and situations[iii].
Throughout history, we see artists, scientists, philosophers, and historians stay creative well into late adulthood. Two examples of outstanding men are cited here, which verifies how both crystallized and experiential intelligence carry into advanced years:
- Michelangelo Buonarroti: The Italian renaissance artist and architect demonstrated great talent all his life. His creativity remained strong, if not more prominent, during his second half of life. Michelangelo began painting The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel at the age of 61, completing it five years later. When he was 71, Michelangelo was appointed as the chief architect of St. Peter’s and Farnese Palace.
- Benjamin Franklin: One of the seven key founding fathers of the United States of America, Franklin worked tirelessly to fulfill his roles as a prolific writer, inventor, and leader. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence when he was 70 years old; he invented the bifocal lens by age 78. Well into his old age, Franklin continued to read and study. In order to reach high bookshelves, he invented the long arm at the age of 80. The following year, he signed the United States Constitution.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotion is a natural state of mind, a feeling, a response from circumstances, mood, or relationships with others. An emotion is an impulse to act. For instance, we may cry when we’re sad. As human beings, we experience different emotions: joy, serenity, bliss, peace, love, sadness, frustration, hate, horror, fear, anger, anguish, sorrow, etc.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) refers to the ability to perceive, control, evaluate, and manage emotions, which helps you get along with other people. Author Daniel Goleman proposes that personal skills, including self-awareness and empathy, influence one’s success in life more so than IQ. Goleman argues that no matter the age, we can learn how to strengthen our relationships with others—and within ourselves[iv]. When we pair our emotional and rational minds together, our emotional and intellectual ability improves. We can continue to build friendships by being empathetic, graceful, and poised indefinitely.
The human brain is powerful and tenacious. Great things are yet to happen for those who believe and persevere.
How can we capitalize on our intelligence as we prepare for our golden years and live life to its fullest?
[i] Duffy, Karen G., Eastwood Atwater. Psychology for Living. 8th Edition. (New Jersey, USA: Upper Saddle River, 2004), 78–79
[iii] Wood, Samuel E. et al. The World of Psychology. Updated 3rd Canadian Edition. (Ontario, Canada: Pearson Allynand Bacon 2004), 217
[iv] Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. The 10th Anniversary Edition. (New York, USA Bantam Books 2006), 227–228