My PhD supervisor, a brilliant and inspiring man, used to jokingly tell me that he had passed his prime and that it was up to me to make the Nobel-prize winning discovery for our group. After all, Albert Einstein was just 26-years-old when he wrote his paper on Special Relativity.
But are we really at our smartest in our 20s? What about the wisdom and experience that come with age? At what age do we strike the right balance between cognitive ability and expertise? When does our intelligence peak?
Fluid Versus Crystallized Intelligence
It’s an inescapable fact that our cognitive abilities are destined to decline at some point. We will have a harder time remembering where we placed our keys or recalling the details of our favorite family story. However, our intelligence is, unsurprisingly, multi-faceted. We have fluid intelligence—that’s our ability to think quickly, solve new problems, and identify patterns—but we also have what psychologists call crystallized intelligence, which reflects our learned knowledge and ability to relate to our surroundings. These two forms of intelligence are thought to peak at different times in our lives.