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That age-old notion that one grows wiser as he gets older has gotten some recent support from scientific research. Elements of social judgment and short-term memory may peak at a later age than previously thought, according to The New York Times ("Older Really Can Mean Wiser," March 2015).

 

A new paper in the journal Psychological Science details the work of postdoctoral fellows from M.I.T. and Harvard, who analyzed scores from cognitive tests performed by a very large group of people between the ages of 10 and 89.

 

Tests measured different types of memory skills, as well as problem solving and the ability to read emotions in others' faces. Researchers studied the effect of age on every type of test. This new approach yielded the conclusion that different abilities blossom at different ages.

 

For example, people in their 40s and 50s were best at "reading" the moods of strangers (such as anger or embarrassment) just from looking at their eyes. This skill was found to decline very slowly thereafter.

 

The results of these tests suggest that older really can mean wiser—if we define "wisdom" as having more knowledge and skill at gauging others' moods. The study joins a growing body of scientific research that challenges the classic literature on age-related decline.

 

The New York Times has also explored the idea that we can reach our creative peak late in life ("Finding Success, Well Past the Age of Wunderkind," March 2015).

 

The article suggests that being open to new experiences is more crucial to the creative process than is "fluid intelligence," which is associated with problem solving.

 

Also, we may not fully discover our talents until we're retired and have time to unearth our deepest passions. Even those who distinguished themselves when young can mature artistically to produce their greatest masterpieces late in life: Verdi composed Otello, arguably his greatest opera, when he was in his 70s.

 

In what ways are you getting better with age?

 

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