Stability and change in intelligence from age 11 to ages 70, 79, and 87: the Lothian Birth Cohorts of 1921 and 1936

Psychol Aging. 2011 Mar;26(1):232-40. doi: 10.1037/a0021072.


Investigating the predictors of age-related cognitive change is a research priority. However, it is first necessary to discover the long-term stability of measures of cognitive ability because prior cognitive ability level might contribute to the amount of cognitive change experienced within old age. These two issues were examined in the Lothian Birth Cohorts of 1921 and 1936. Cognitive ability data were available from age 11 years when the participants completed the Moray House Test No. 12 (MHT). The Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 (LBC1936) completed the MHT a second time at age 70. The Lothian Birth Cohort 1921 (LBC1921) completed the MHT at ages 79 and 87. We examined cognitive stability and change from childhood to old age in both cohorts, and within old age in the LBC1921. Raw stability coefficients for the MHT from 11-70, 11-79, and 11-87 years were .67, .66, and .51, respectively; and larger when corrected for range restriction in the samples. Therefore, minimum estimates of the variance in later-life MHT accounted for by childhood performance on the same test ranged from 26-44%. This study also examined, in the LBC1921, whether MHT score at age 11 influenced the amount of change in MHT between ages 79 and 87. It did not. Higher intelligence from early life was apparently protective of intelligence in old age due to the stability of cognitive function across the lifespan, rather than because it slowed the decline experienced in later life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Child
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Intelligence* / physiology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Scotland
  • Young Adult