You really are as old as you feel - and it’s all about IQ
A study has found a link between a person’s IQ during adolescence and how old they feel in their 70s
That phrase “You’re only as young as you feel”, it turns out, has some truth in it.
A new study by Yannick Stephan and colleagues at the University of Montpellier discovered an association between an individual’s IQ during adolescence and how old they feel in their 70s.
Using data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, they obtained the IQ scores of 4,494 participants who had been tested as teenagers, and correlated the data with the participants’ subjective age (how old they told researchers they were feeling) more than 50 years later. Those with higher adolescent IQ scores felt significantly younger than their peers.
Because this is a correlational study, it doesn’t necessarily mean a high IQ early in life determines subjective age later on. It might be, for example, that because someone is highly intelligent when they’re in school, they gain access to more education and as a result learn more about how to maintain best health. Nonetheless, on the face of it, this finding may feel discouraging; after all, we can’t go back to our teenage years and change our IQ score.
However, when Stephan took into account other information about the participants he discovered a mediating factor – another variable that helped clarify the relationship between IQ and subjective age.
A high score on openness to experience – one of the so-called Big Five personality traits (the others being conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism) – was found to correlate even more powerfully with lower subjective age than did IQ.
This finding is encouraging for two reasons: because it suggests that cultivating this personality trait is likely to wake up your youthful feelings; and because when you become more open to experience your efforts will bring other benefits as well.
What does it mean to be open to experience? Individuals who score highly on this trait enjoy change and variety. They’re adventurous and willing to consider new ideas. They have an active imagination and pay attention to their inner feelings, and are often described as insightful, curious and innovative.
If you’re someone who has always preferred to stick with the familiar, it’s best to start gently rather than thinking you can change your outlook completely straight away. A good way to begin is to think back to childhood. See if you can remember what fascinated you then. Can you reignite one of your early interests, perhaps by taking a course or joining a group? If so, you won’t regret it.
Jessie Sun and colleagues at the University of Melbourne found enthusiasm, compassion and intellectual awareness – all aspects of openness to experience – to be positively correlated with measures of wellbeing; and Pam Schmutte and Carol Ryff at the University of Wisconsin found a positive correlation between openness to experience and personal growth.
• Linda Blair is a clinical psychologist and author of Siblings: How to Handle Rivalry and Create Lifelong Loving Bonds.
– © The Daily Telegraph