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Does Intelligence Decline with Aging?

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Does intelligence decline with aging? That question being debated among psychologists worldwide will be the focus of a study by West Virginia University Assistant Professor of Psychology Julie Hicks Patrick.

Patrick has received $73,000 from the National Institutes of Health for a one-year study to collect data to address stereotypes labeled at the intelligence of older adults.

"The changes that may accompany getting older don't necessarily mean that older adults can't perform well in their daily lives," Patrick said. "The study will examine the ways in which older adults apply their cognitive abilities to deal with the kinds of problems and decisions we all face."

Psychologists use two major terms to identify different forms of intelligence. Fluid intelligence is tied to biology and deals with an individual's ability to make on-the-spot decisions that are not dependent on experience. Crystallized intelligence is the amount of information a person has absorbed and accumulated from a society's culture over time.

"Most research shows that crystallized abilities remain pretty high in old age, but that fluid abilities decline," Patrick said. "However, as we age, the two become more integrated, so that older adults can still perform well, especially in an area in which they are interested and/or an expert. Being able to use information to solve problems or make decisions is one of those skills that draws from both fluid and crystallized intelligence," Patrick added.

The experimental study will require older adults to combine both fluid and crystallized abilities to make decisions based on provided information.

Patrick, the Judith Stitzel Endowed Teacher in Women's Studies for the 2000-2001 academic year, received her B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Akron. Before joining the WVU faculty in 1998, she held appointments as project director for three federal grants related to family-care giving in Cleveland, Ohio, and Peoria, Ill.

Patrick's research focuses in the area of adulthood and aging, with a special interest in social cognition, family-care giving and successful aging. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in the Department of Psychology's life-span developmental psychology program.

---West Virginia University

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