Traditional theories of aging claim that basic processing speed and memory capacities show inevitable decline with increasing age. Recent research, however, has shown that older experts in some domains are able to maintain their superior performance into old age. but even they display the typical age-related decline in performance on psychometric tests of fluid intelligence. The study of expert performance shows that adults retain the capacity to acquire and maintain performance with the appropriate type of training and practice, even speeded actions and many physiological adaptations. In fact, experts’ performance keeps improving for several decades into adulthood and typically reaches its peak between 30 and 50 years of age. The experts can then maintain their attained performance level into old age by regular deliberate practice. Much of the observed decline in older adults’ performance can be attributed to age-related reductions in engagement in domain-related activities—in particular, regular deliberate practice.
The author is with the Department of Psychology at Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306-1270.