Cognition through the lifespan: mechanisms of change

Trends Cogn Sci. 2006 Mar;10(3):131-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2006.01.007. Epub 2006 Feb 7.


Cognitive abilities rise steeply from infancy to young adulthood and then are either maintained or decline to old age, depending on the specific ability. This pattern suggests corresponding continuities of mechanism and process, but it is striking that the fields of cognitive development and cognitive aging make little contact with each other's methods and theories. In this review we examine reasons for this cultural separation, and show how recent findings from both areas fit a framework couched in terms of cognitive representation and control. These two broad factors have very different lifespan trajectories; consideration of their relative growth and decline makes it clear that cognitive aging is not simply 'development in reverse'. This framework is offered in light of recent interest in finding greater continuity throughout the lifespan and creating a more comprehensive explanation of cognitive function and cognitive change.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Culture
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Life Change Events*
  • Multilingualism