Age, Ability, and Experience affect Performance on Cognitive Tests
Age, ability and experience affect performance on cognitive tests In an article published in the journal Intelligence, the study author reported that whether longitudinal cognition studies measure an increase or decrease in cognitive ability depended on a number of factors: the domain of cognition under study, the time between cognitive tests and the participant's age […]

Age, ability and experience affect performance on cognitive tests

In an article published in the journal Intelligence, the study author reported that whether longitudinal cognition studies measure an increase or decrease in cognitive ability depended on a number of factors: the domain of cognition under study, the time between cognitive tests and the participant's age and overall cognitive ability.

In traditional longitudinal studies, cognitive tests are administered at the start of the study, and then the tests are administered again at a different time weeks or years later. In this study, the researcher used a longitudinal study design that differed from traditional longitudinal cognitive studies. At baseline, participants were given parallel versions of cognitive tests on three separate visits, with less than a week, on average, between visits. Then, between one and eleven years later, participants again received parallel versions of cognitive tests on three separate visits with an average of less than a week between visits. There were more than 2,000 study participants, and just under half of them received a third set of cognitive tests during three separate visits with less than a week between visits on average, and approximately one to eight years after the second round of testing. . The schedule for the nine visits is shown in the graph below.

Study participants were between the ages of 18 and 80, and those who might have had dementia, as identified by their performance on a cognitive test, were excluded from the study. The researcher administered sixteen tests to examine five aspects of cognition. For example, memory was probed with word recall tests. Perception speed was tested by asking participants to match symbols to numbers. Vocabulary was tested by asking participants to give definitions for different words. The spatial visualization was tested by a paper folding test. The reasoning was examined with a matrix reasoning test where participants were presented with a series of patterned figures with a missing number, which participants were asked to complete. All tests were performed in the same order on each visit. The study researcher created a composite score for each cognitive ability by combining the test scores for each aspect of cognition.


Using statistical analyzes, the study author examined the effects of longer time intervals between visits on participants' cognitive test scores. The author of the study reported that the longer the time interval between Visit 3 and Visit 4, the more participants scored on memory and speed of perception tests. The researcher also reported that the longer the time interval between visit 6 and visit 7, the higher the scores on memory tests. These drops in performance were statistically significant.

Differences in cognitive test performance between age groups

The researcher plotted the composite test scores for each of the five cognitive abilities studied, separately plotting the scores for three different age groups: 18 to 39, 40 to 59, and 60 to 80. For cognitive tests of memory, speed of perception, spatial visualization, and reasoning, participants aged 18 to 39 had the highest scores, participants aged 40 to 59 had the lowest and participants aged 60 to 80 the lowest scores.

For cognitive vocabulary tests, this trend has reversed. Participants aged 60 to 80 scored the highest, participants aged 40 to 59 scored lower, and participants aged 18 to 39 scored the lowest. This trend in cognitive performance on vocabulary tests was observed in all four vocabulary tests, not just in the composite vocabulary score. At younger ages, participants saw greater vocabulary gains over shorter time intervals (for example, from visit 1 to visit 3).

In general, cognitive performance tended to increase over shorter time intervals (eg, from visit 1 to visit 3). Older study participants and participants with lower cognitive ability tended to see the greatest gains over these shorter intervals. Cognitive performance over longer time intervals (for example, from visit 3 to visit 4) tended to decline, especially for older study participants.

Associations between short-term changes and long-term changes

The study investigator wondered whether changes in cognitive performance over the shorter time intervals (eg, visit 1 to visit 3) might predict changes in cognitive performance over the longer intervals (eg, visit 3 to visit 4). Contrary to what the researcher expected, study participants who had the largest increases in performance from visits 1 to 2, visits 4 to 5, and visits 7 to 8 had the largest reductions in performance from the study. visit 3 to visit 4 and from visit 6 to visit 7.


Having previous experience with a cognitive test can affect the performance of test participants. Often the performance improves. This article addresses a gap in the literature because the study was designed to examine the effects of previous experience with cognitive tests. There are very few studies in the scientific literature that take into account the effects of experience in the design of the study. The results of this research study extend our knowledge by providing evidence for the effects of experience, among other factors, on cognitive test performance.

The results of this study have a number of important implications. One implication is that an initial cognitive test may not be fair for the elderly and those with lower cognitive abilities. These people saw the greatest benefit from having previous experience with cognitive tests, as they had the largest increases in cognitive performance scores from an initial test to a second cognitive test.

Reports of previous scientific studies on the effects of cognitive ability on cognitive performance over shorter time intervals have been inconsistent. A number of studies have reported an increase in cognitive performance over short periods of time in individuals with high cognitive abilities. Some reports have found no association between cognitive ability and cognitive performance, and some studies have observed improvement in cognitive performance over short intervals of time in participants with poor ability.

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