The concept of intelligence is complex and multi-faceted, encompassing a range of abilities including creativity, problem-solving, memory, and learning. Throughout the lifespan, our brains undergo rapid growth, neuroplastic changes, and ageing processes that shape our cognitive abilities. In childhood, the brain regions involved in language and exploration develop quickly, while in adulthood, the prefrontal cortex, responsible for cognitive control, matures. Late in adulthood, some cognitive skills may decline as the hippocampus (the brain’s memory centre) shrinks. With this in mind, it is worth considering the question: at what age are you the smartest? This article explores the various factors that contribute to our cognitive abilities at different stages of life.

Why does our intelligence actually peak?
When does our intelligence actually peak?

We often associate intelligence with things like IQ tests, but these are not accurate assessments to capture the scope and depth of one’s set of abilities. It is because IQ tests usually centre on measuring certain cognitive abilities such as logical reasoning, verbal comprehension, and mathematical aptitude, but they often overlook other important aspects of intelligence such as emotional intelligence, creativity, interpersonal skills, and practical intelligence. Additionally, IQ tests may also be culturally biased and may not accurately reflect an individual’s potential or abilities in real-life situations.

In order to assess one’s intelligence rather precisely, it is important to break down the concept of “intelligence or smartness” into different categories like creativity, memory, and learning. This will provide a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of what it means to be “smart.” Rather than viewing intelligence as a single, fixed trait, this approach recognizes that intelligence encompasses a diverse range of abilities and skills that can be developed and improved upon over time.

Let us start from the very moment we are born.

The first few years of life are marked by incredible growth in the brain. During this time, our brain goes through a process called synaptogenesis, where more than a million new connections are formed between neurons every second. These connections, called synapses, allow neurons to communicate with each other and play a key role in learning and memory. But, as the brain develops, connections that are used regularly are strengthened, while those that are not used are removed in a process called pruning. Additionally, frequently used neuronal pathways are covered in a protective layer, allowing for faster transfer of information. This process results in a more refined and efficient brain. However, this change happens at different times for different skills, allowing for different abilities to develop and improve at different ages.

For example, during childhood, the brain regions responsible for language learning grow quickly, making it easier for children to pick up multiple languages. However, the part of the brain that controls cognitive abilities, such as focus and planning, called the prefrontal cortex, develops more slowly. This can make it difficult for young children to play strategic games like chess or checkers that require intense focus and abstract thought. On the other hand, children tend to be more flexible and creative learners and are less afraid of making mistakes.

In adulthood, the prefrontal cortex is fully developed, allowing for better execution of skills that require memory, learning, and focus. Adults can excel at activities like solving puzzles and crosswords. However in late adulthood, the hippocampus (the brain’s memory centre) shrinks and these skills may decline as a result.

As people grow older and accumulate more knowledge throughout their lifetime, they become more adept at recalling and utilising that information effectively. During adolescence, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for logic and decision making, is better developed than in childhood. This allows for better performance in activities that require mathematical and logical thinking. At the same time, other parts of the brain involved in motivation and reward are also developing quickly, leading to increased curiosity and a desire for new experiences. At any stage of life, our choices and the skills we focus on can actually shape the development of our brain.

So to answer – at what age you are the smartest?

There is no definitive answer as to when our intelligence actually peaks. Intelligence is a complex and multi-faceted concept that cannot be reduced to a single measurement or defined by a single age. Different aspects of intelligence, such as emotional intelligence, analytical intelligence, and creative intelligence, develop and change throughout a person’s life in response to their experiences and the demands of their environment. Additionally, intelligence is not static but rather a dynamic, adaptive ability that changes as people learn, grow, and age. As a result, it is not possible to determine a single age at which humans are the smartest, as our brains are constantly adapting and changing to meet the demands of our lives.