In the section on training, evidence suggests that a cognitively enriched lifestyle can positively influence intellectual change as we grow older. This suggests that there is promise in develop­ing long-term cognitive enrichment programs to reduce morbidity and dependence in older adults. For example, it may be the case that we can defer the need for assited living, improve well-being, and reduce health care costs. Projects aimed at training intellectual abilities in older adult popu­lations thus have important public policy implica­tions in terms of funding priorities and reducing the burden on public funding for disabilities in senior citizens. The long-term goals of projects such as ACTIVE is to reduce public health prob­lems associated with the increasing need for more formal care and hospitalization along with the loss of independence in the growing number of Ameri­can senior citizens.

Richard M. Suzman, Ph. D., Associate Director for the Behavioral and Social Research Program at the National Institute on Aging (NIA), says,

The trial (ACTIVE trials) was highly successful in showing that we can, at least in the laboratory, improve certain thinking and reasoning abilities in older people. The findings here were powerful and very specific. Although they did not appear to make any real change in the actual, daily activities of the participants, I think we can build on these results to see how training ultimately might be applied to tasks that older people do everyday, such as using medication or handling finances. This intervention research, aimed at helping healthy older people maintain cognitive status as they age, is an increasingly high priority of the NIH/National Institute on Aging.


7.1 Defining Intelligence

How do people define intelligence in everyday


• Experts and laypeople agree that intelligence consists of problem-solving ability, verbal ability, and social competence. Motivation, exertion of effort, and reading are important behaviors for people of all ages; however, some age-related behaviors are also apparent.

What are the major components of the

life-span approach?

• The life-span view emphasizes that there is some intellectual decline with age, primarily in the mechanics, but there is also stability and growth,
primarily in the pragmatics. Four points are central. Plasticity concerns the range within which one’s abilities are modifiable. Multidimensionality concerns the many abilities that underlie intelligence. Multidirectionality concerns the many possible ways individuals may develop. Interindividual variability acknowledges that people differ from each other.

What are the major research approaches for

studying intelligence?

• Three main approaches are used to study intelligence. The psychometric approach focuses on performance on standardized tests.

The cognitive-structural approach emphasizes the quality and style of thought. The information-processing approach emphasis basic cognitive mechanisms.

7.2 Developmental Trends in Psychometric Intelligence

What are primary mental abilities and how do they change across adulthood?

• Primary abilities comprise the several independent abilities that form factors on standardized intelligence tests. Five have been studied most: number, word fluency, verbal meaning, inductive reasoning, and spatial orientation.

• Primary mental abilities show normative declines with age that may affect performance in everyday life after around age 60, although declines

tend to be small until the mid-70s. However, within-individual differences show that very few people decline equally in all areas.

What are secondary mental abilities? What are the developmental trends for fluid and crystallized intelligence?

• Fluid intelligence involves innate abilities that make people flexible and adaptive thinkers and that underlie the acquisition of knowledge and experience. Fluid intelligence normally declines with age. Crystallized intelligence is knowledge acquired through life experience and education. Crystallized intelligence does not normally decline with age until very late life. As age increases, individual differences remain stable with fluid intelligence but increase with crystallized intelligence.

What are the primary moderators of intellectual change?

• Age-related declines in fluid abilities have been shown to be moderated by cohort, education, social variables, personality, health, lifestyle, and task familiarity. Cohort effects and familiarity have been studied most. Cohort differences are complex and depend on the specific ability. Age differences in performance on familiar tasks are similar to those on standardized tests. Although taking both into account reduces age differences, they are not eliminated.

How successful are attempts at training primary mental abilities?

• Several studies show that fluid intelligence abilities improve after direct training and after anxiety

276 CHAPTER 7 reduction. Improvements in performance match or exceed individuals’ level of decline. Training effects appear to last for several years regardless of the nature of the training, but generalization of training to new tasks is rare.

7.3 Qualitative Differences in Adults’ Thinking

What are the main points in Piaget’s theory of cognitive development?

• Key concepts in Piaget’s theory include adaptation to the environment, organization of thought, and the structure of thought. The processes

of thought are assimilation (using previously learned knowledge to make sense of incoming information) and accommodation (making the knowledge base conform to the environment). According to Piaget, thought develops through four stages: sensorimotor, preoperations, concrete operations, and formal operations.

What evidence is there for continued cognitive development beyond formal operations?

• Considerable evidence shows that the style of thinking changes across adulthood. The development of reflective judgment in young adulthood occurs as a result of seven stages. Other research has identified a progression from absolutist thinking to relativistic thinking to dialectical thinking. A key characteristic

of post-formal thought is the integration of emotion and logic. Much of this research is based on people’s solutions to real-world problems. Although there have been suggestions that women’s ways of knowing differ from men’s, research evidence does not provide strong support for this view.

7.4 Everyday Reasoning and Problem Solving

What are the characteristics of older adults’ decision making?

• Older adults make decisions in a qualitatively different way from younger adults. They tend to search for less information, require less information, and rely on preexisting knowledge
structures in making everyday decisions. Older adults perform more poorly when asked to create or invent new decision rules, in unfamiliar situations, and when the decision task requires high cognitive load.

What age differences are found in practical problem solving?

• In Denney’s model, both unexercised and optimally exercised abilities increase through early adulthood and slowly decline thereafter. Performance on practical problem solving increases through middle age. Research indicates that sound measures of practical problem solving can be constructed, but these measures do not tend to relate to each other, indicating that problem solving is multidimensional. The emotional salience of problems is an important feature that influences problem-solving style with older adults performing better when problems involve interpersonal and emotional features.

What is the role of experience in expertise and problem solving?

• Older adults can often compensate for declines in some abilities by becoming experts, which allows them to anticipate what is going to be required on a task. Knowledge encapsulation occurs with age, in which the processes of thinking become connected with the products of thinking. Encapsulated knowledge cannot be decomposed and studied component by component.

What is wisdom and how does it relate to age and life experience?

• Wisdom involves four general characteristics: it deals with important matters of life; it consists of superior knowledge, judgment, and advice; it is knowledge of exceptional depth; and it is well intentioned. Five specific behavioral criteria are used to judge wisdom: expertise, broad abilities, understanding how life problems change, fitting the response with the problem, and realizing that life problems are often ambiguous. Wisdom also entails integrating thought and emotion to show empathy or compassion. Wisdom may be more strongly related to experience than to age.

Review Questions

7.1 Defining Intelligence

• How do laypeople and researchers define intelligence?

• What are the two main ways that intelligence has been studied? Define each.

7.2 Developmental Trends in Psychometric Intelligence

• What are primary mental abilities? Which ones have been studied most? How do they change with age?

• Define fluid and crystallized intelligence. How does each change with age?

• What factors moderate age changes in fluid intelligence? What role does cohort play? What role do health and lifestyle play?

• What benefits do older people get from intervention programs aimed at improving fluid abilities? What training approaches have been used? How well do trained skills generalize?

• Are there any limitations on the extent to which older adults can improve their cognitive performance?

7.3 Qualitative Differences in Adults’ Thinking

• What are the key concepts in Piaget’s theory?

• What stages of cognitive development did Piaget identify? Do adults use formal operations?

• What is reflective judgment? What are the stages in its development? What are absolutist, relativistic, and dialectical thinking?

• How do emotion and logic become integrated?

• What evidence is there for gender differences in post-formal thinking?

7.4 Everyday Reasoning and Problem Solving

• How do older adults differ from younger adults in everyday decision making?

• What are unexercised and optimally exercised abilities? How do their developmental paths differ from each other?

• What are the developmental trends in solving practical problems? How does emotional salience of problems influence problem-solving style?

• What is an expert? How is expertise related to age?

• What is knowledge encapsulation?

• What criteria are used to define wisdom? How is wisdom related to age?

Integrating Concepts in Development

• How are the primary and secondary mental abilities related to the aspects of information processing considered in Chapters 6 and 7?

• What do you think an integrated theory linking post-formal thinking, practical problem solving, expertise, and wisdom would look like?

• What aspects of secondary mental abilities do you think would be most closely linked to expertise? Why?

• How does effective social cognitive functioning considered in Chapter 9 relate to wisdom-related behaviors?

Key Terms

accommodation Changing one’s thought to better approximate the world of experience. assimilation Using currently available knowledge to make sense out of incoming information. cognitive-structural approach An approach to intelligence that emphasizes the ways in which people conceptualize problems and focuses on modes or styles of thinking.

crystallized intelligence Knowledge acquired through life experience and education in a particular culture. encapsulation The idea that the processes of thinking become connected to the products of thinking. factor The interrelations among performances on similar tests of psychometric intelligence. fluid intelligence Abilities that make one a flexible and adaptive thinker, that allow one to draw inferences, and that allow one to understand the relations among concepts independent of acquired knowledge and experience.


interindividual variability An acknowledgment that adults differ in the direction of their intellectual development.

multidimensional The notion that intelligence consists of many dimensions.

multidirectionality The distinct patterns of change in abilities over the life span, with these patterns being different for different abilities. optimal level of development In the reflective judgment framework, the highest level of information-processing capacity that a person is capable of. optimally exercised ability The ability a normal, healthy adult would demonstrate under the best conditions of training or practice.

plasticity The range of functioning within an individual and the conditions under which a person’s abilities can be modified within a specific age range. post-formal thought Thinking characterized by a recognition that truth varies across situations, that solutions must be realistic to be reasonable, that ambiguity and contradiction are the rule rather than the exception, and that emotion and subjective factors play a role in thinking. primary mental abilities Independent abilities within psychometric intelligence based on different combinations of standardized intelligence tests. psychometric approach An approach to intelligence involving defining it as performance on standardized tests.

reflective judgment Thinking that involves how people

reason through dilemmas involving current affairs,

religion, science, and the like.

secondary mental abilities Broad-ranging skills

composed of several primary mental abilities.

skill acquisition In the reflective judgment framework,

the gradual, and somewhat haphazard, process by

which people learn new abilities.

unexercised ability The ability a normal, healthy adult

would exhibit without practice or training.


www. cengage. com/psychology/cavanaugh

Visit the Book Companion Website where you will find tutorial quizzes, flashcards, and Web links for every chapter, a final exam, and more!

You may wish to view current research on the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm and the ACTIVE project on the sites for these individual websites.


King, P. M., & Kitchener, K. S. (1994). Developing reflective judgment: Understanding and promoting intellectual growth and critical thinking in adolescents and adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. The most thorough description of the reflective judgment framework, including excellent discussions on the longitudinal data on which it is based. Easy reading. Labouvie-Vief, G. (1994). Psyche and Eros: Mind and gender in the life course. New York: Cambridge University Press. A thorough examination of the adult developmental pathway to the reintegration of emotion and logic. It draws from multiple areas including psychological research, mythology, religion, and literature. Moderate reading.

Schaie, K. W. (2005). Developmental influences on adult intelligence: The Seattle Longitudinal Study. New York: Oxford University Press. The most up-to-date review of the Seattle Longitudinal Study in a single volume. A must-read not only for the information about psychometric intelligence but also for the information on research methodology. Moderately difficult reading.

Sinnott, J. D. (Ed.). (1994). Interdisciplinary handbook of adult lifespan learning. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. An excellent eclectic collection of chapters on various topics pertaining to intellectual development in adulthood. Easy to moderately difficult reading.

Sternberg, R. J. (Ed.). (1990). Wisdom: Its nature, origins, and development (pp. 279-313). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. One of the few collections of articles on wisdom that provides a broad survey of the topic. Moderately difficult reading.

Sternberg, R. J. (2003). Wisdom, intelligence, and creativity synthesized. New York: Cambridge University Press. This book represents a critical review and summary of current views of human intelligence. Moderately difficult reading.

Intelligence 279