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Mental Processing Speed Increases

Teens Get Smarter as Their Minds Get Quicker
by Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH

If you don’t believe your teenager is smarter than you, just ask her. Now teens everywhere have a bit of solid evidence to explain exactly why they seem to know everything. The results of a recent study* demonstrated that adolescents become smarter because they become mentally quicker.

The research was based on two well-known findings. One is that performance on intelligence tests improves during adolescence. The other is that mental processing speed, the time it takes the brain to absorb and process new information, also increases during adolescence.

For this study, researchers analyzed the results of 12 intelligence and mental speed tests administered to nearly 7000 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17. The scientists found that older teens scored higher and worked faster than younger teens, which isn’t surprising. What is surprising is that the “increase” in intelligence of older teens could be accounted for almost entirely by the increase in mental speed.

The message for moms? If you want to be as smart as your teenager, you’ve got to think as fast as your teenager.

*T. R. Coyle, D. R. Pillow, A. C. Snyder, P. Kochunov. Processing Speed Mediates the Development of General Intelligence (g) in Adolescence. Psychological Science, 2011; DOI: 10.1177/0956797611418243

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