Beyond Sheer Brainpower

Beyond Sheer Brainpower

Psychology August 13, 2013 / By Annie Murphy Paul
Beyond Sheer Brainpower
SYNOPSIS

What does it take to think and act in an intelligent way?

What does it take to think and act in an intelligent way? Many of us would say it’s simply a matter of raw brainpower. That perspective was on display in a recent NPR segment, in which the pundit David Brooks described the case for appointing Larry Summers (former Secretary of the Treasury, former Harvard president) the next Chairman of the Federal Reserve:
 
“I think the argument for Summers is that he's got the intellectual heavyweight stature to adapt to what could be a global crisis,” Brooks said, adding that Summers “is one of the smartest people most of us have ever interviewed,” and that he “has an international reputation for the power of his mind.”
 
Here Brooks (a writer I very much admire) is extolling—as much of our culture does—the value of pure genius, sheer intellectual strength. But as those of you who are regular readers of the Brilliant Blog know, I think there’s much more to the story. Other factors—like motivation, effective learning and problem-solving strategies, and a well-designed physical and psychological environment in which to do our thinking—also matter, a lot.
 
These situational factors exert their influence in so many ways, but today, inspired by a recent research finding, I want to focus on one in particular: how a mastery of situation can actually make us smarter as we get older. In the current issue of the journal Psychological Science, researchers report that older people (over 65) showedless variability in their cognitive performance across 100 days of testing than did younger people aged 20 to 31.
 
Why? The older adults' greater consistency “is due to learned strategies to solve the task, a constantly high motivation level, as well as a balanced daily routine and stable mood,” notes one of the scientists, Florian Schmiedek of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany. A colleague of Schmiedek’s, Axel Börsch-Supan, adds that his research shows that older workers are more productive and reliable, and less likely to make serious errors, than are their younger colleagues.
 
To read about ten more ways you get smarter as you get older, check out this post on the Brilliant Blog. 

This post originally appeared at The Brilliant Report
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