Typical intellectual engagement and cognition in the ninth decade of life: The lothian birth cohort 1921

Sophie Von Stumm*, Ian J. Deary

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Investment traits-the tendency to seek out and engage in cognitive activity-might affect intellectual growth across the life span, specifically the development from fluid to crystallized intelligence. Here we explore how childhood IQ at age 11 years, IQ at age 79, and the investment trait Typical Intellectual Engagement (TIE) at age 81 affect the mean level and change in verbal fluency scores, used as an indicator of crystallized intelligence, across the ages 79, 83, and 87 in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1921 (maximum N = 569; Deary, Whiteman, Starr, Whalley, & Fox, 2004). A first latent growth model showed significant variance in the mean level of verbal fluency and significant decline in verbal fluency from age 79 to age 87. The rate of change was invariant across study participants in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1921. A second model found that IQ at age 11 significantly predicted IQ at age 79 (β = .66; p <.001), which in turn predicted verbal fluency and TIE in the ninth decade of life with standardized path parameters of .46 and .15 (p <.001), respectively. TIE had a significant association with verbal fluency (β =.14, p =.002); together, IQ at age 11 and 79 and TIE accounted for 25.5% of the variance in verbal fluency. A final model identified the TIE subfactor of intellectual curiosity as a significant mediator of the effect of IQ on verbal fluency; the TIE subfactors abstract thinking, reading, and problem solving showed no significant associations. In summary, TIE-in particular, intellectual curiosity-significantly mediated the effects of IQ on crystallized intelligence in old age. Because there was no significant between-subjects variance in verbal fluency trajectories in the current study, neither TIE nor IQ were associated with individual differences in cognitive decline.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)761-767
Number of pages7
JournalPsychology and aging
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012


  • Cognitive aging
  • Intelligence
  • Investment
  • Latent growth curve model
  • Typical intellectual engagement

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