Differentiation of cognitive abilities across the life span

Dev Psychol. 2009 Jul;45(4):1097-118. doi: 10.1037/a0015864.


Existing representations of cognitive ability structure are exclusively based on linear patterns of interrelations. However, a number of developmental and cognitive theories predict that abilities are differentially related across ages (age differentiation-dedifferentiation) and across levels of functioning (ability differentiation). Nonlinear factor analytic models were applied to multivariate cognitive ability data from 6,273 individuals, ages 4 to 101 years, who were selected to be nationally representative of the U.S. population. Results consistently supported ability differentiation but were less clear with respect to age differentiation-dedifferentiation. Little evidence for age modification of ability differentiation was found. These findings are particularly informative about the nature of individual differences in cognition and about the developmental course of cognitive ability level and structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Aptitude*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Psychometrics
  • Reference Values
  • Young Adult