Middle Adulthood: Cognitive Development


    Historically, psychologists have thought of intelligence as a single quantity.

    Charles Spearman, proposed that there is such a thing as general intelligence, which he called g.
    Research has shown a general trend towards increasing average IQ scores. This trend is called 
the Flynn Effect & because of it, IQ tests are re-normed every 15 years or so.

    Recently, researchers have begun to doubt whether there is an inevitable decline in cognitive 
functioning with age. Schaie developed the cross-sequential research design to test this. Each time 
his original subjects were retested (every 7 years in this longitudinal design), he also tested a new 
group of adults at each age interval and then followed them longitudinally as well. Schaie’s findings 
in the Seattle Longitudinal Study indicate that from age 20 until the late 50s, cognitive abilities are 
more likely to increase than decrease, with the exception of arithmetic skills, which begin to shift 
slightly downward by age 40. Not until the 80s does performance fall below the middle range of 
performance for young adults.
    In the 60’s, Cattell & Horn differentiated fluid intelligence from crystallized intelligence,

        Fluid intelligence: flexible reasoning and is made up of the basic mental abilities such as inductive 
reasoning, abstract thinking and speed of thinking required for understanding any subject.

        Crystallized intelligence: refers to the accumulation of facts, information and knowledge that comes 
with education and experience within a particular culture.

        Originally, psychologists believed that fluid intelligence was primarily genetic and that crystallized 
intelligence was primarily learned. This nature-nurture distinction is probably invalid, in part because the 
acquisition of crystallized intelligence is affected by the quality of fluid intelligence.

        Fluid intelligence declines during adulthood, although this decline is temporarily masked by an increase 
in crystallized intelligence. This contrast is revealed in WAIS scores: verbal IQ remains relatively stable 
throughout adulthood, while performance IQ drops an average of 25 points.
    Robert Sternberg  has proposed that intelligence is composed of 3 distinct parts;

        Analytic / Academic: consists of mental processes that foster efficient learning, remembering & thinking.
        note: Multiple choice tests, with one & only one right answer reward analytic intelligence.
        Creative: involves the capacity to be flexible and innovative when dealing with new situations.
        Practical: enables the person to adapt his/her abilities to contextual demands.
    Gardner maintains that each of his eight intelligences has its own neurological network in the brain; the 
value placed on each dimension depends on the particular cultural environment & therefore on the training 
of the individual and on those evaluating him or her.
    Cultures that emphasize activities that the old can do, such as yoga & tai-chi have healthier elderly people 
because that aspect of intelligence is still practiced.
Gardner's eight Intelligences are:
    •   Linguistic
    •   Logical-Mathematical
    •   Musical
    •   Spatial
    •   Body-Kinesthetic
    •   Interpersonal ( social-understanding )
    •   Intrapersonal ( self understanding )
    •   Naturalistic

Selective Gains & Losses

    When people devise alternate strategies to compensate for age related declines in ability its called 
selective optimization with compensation.

    When we age it is thought that we develop special competencies, or expertise, in activities that are 
important to us.

    There are differences between experts & novices. Novices tend to rely more on formal procedures & 
rules to guide them, whereas experts rely more on their experience & the immediate context. This 
makes the actions of experts more intuitive & less stereotypic.
   Experts practice, usually at least 10 years. This illustrates the importance of motivation in the 
development of expertise.

    The benefits of expertise are quite specific; however, practice & specialization cannot always 
overcome the effects of age.

    The cognitive appraisal of an event is critical in determining whether or not that event becomes 
a stressor.

    In problem focused coping, people try to cope by facing the problem directly. In emotion focused 
coping, people cope with stress by trying to change their emotions. Younger adults are more likely to 
attack a problem & older adults are more likely to accept it.

Key Questions

1. What 4 aspects of cognitive growth are highlighted by the life-span perspective?
2. How is fluid intelligence different from crystallized intelligence? How does each change in adulthood?
3. How do Sternberg’s three fundamental forms of intelligence - analytic, creative, & practical - tend to vary with age?
4. Which of Gardner's eight intelligences tend to increase during adulthood in North America, & why?
5. How and why do context and cohort affect patterns of cognitive growth?
6. How is plasticity of cognitive development related to education?
7. What are the differences between an expert and a novice?
8. In your experience what changes in your own intelligence have occurred in the past 10 years?

                                                  Growth & Development
                                                       Robert C. Gates