Harvard Women's Health Watch

Vocabulary improves with age, research shows

Harvard researchers Joshua Hartshorne and Laura Germine have added to the growing body of research indicating that, in some respects, our cognitive function is improving, not declining, as we age. Their report, published online March 15, 2015, by Psychological Science, indicates that our vocabulary skills keep improving past retirement age.

The researchers wanted to understand how and when reasoning and memory change over the life span as a basis for distinguishing normal from abnormal aging. They recruited 48,000 volunteers of all ages and had them complete online tests that measured brain processing speed, memory, emotional intelligence, and vocabulary.

They found that while mental processing speed and working memory peak early in life, people keep building their vocabularies well into their 60s and 70s. They suggested that this study might encourage us to think of aging as a ripening process rather than a decline.

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