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Joe Biden at Age 78

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Crystallized intelligence. We can admit to experiencing what researchers document: Our fluid intelligenceour ability to reason and react speedilyisn't what it used to be. We don't solve math problems as quickly or learn new technologies as readily, and we're no match for our grandkids at video games.

But the better news is that our crystallized intelligenceour accumulated knowledge and the ability to apply itcrests later in life. No wonder many historians, philosophers, and artists have produced their most noteworthy work later in life than have mathematicians and scientists. Anna Mary Robertson Moses ("Grandma Moses") took up painting in her 70s. At age 89, Frank Lloyd Wright designed New York City's Guggenheim Museum. At age 94, my psychologist colleague Albert Bandura has just co-authored yet another article. Perhaps our most important work is also yet ahead?

Wisdom. With maturity, people's social skills often increase. They become better able to take multiple perspectives, to offer helpful sagacity amid conflicts, and to appreciate the limits of their knowledge. The wisdom to know when we know a thing and when we do not is born of experience.

Working at Berlin's Max Planck Institute, psychologist Paul Baltes and his colleagues developed wisdom tests that assess people's life knowledge and judgments about how to conduct themselves in complex circumstances. Wisdom "is one domain in which some older individuals excel," they report. "In youth we learn, in age we understand," observed the 19th-century novelist Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach.

Stable emotionality. As the years go by, our feelings mellow. Unlike teens, who tend to rebound up from gloom or down from elation within an hour, our highs are less high and our lows less low. As we age, we find ourselves less often feeling excited or elated. But our lives are also less often disrupted by depression.

We late-70s people are better able to look beyond the moment. Compliments produce less elation; criticisms, less despair. At the outset of my career, praise and criticism would inflate and deflate my head. A publication might have me thinking I was God's new gift to my profession, while a rejection led me to ponder moving home to join the family business. With experience, both acclaim and reproach become mere iotas of additional feedback atop a mountain of commentary. Thus, when responding to the day's slings and arrows, we can better take a big-picture, long-term perspective.

Mr. President-elect, I understand these things, as I suspect you do, too. When in my 60s, I assumedwronglythat by age 78, I would no longer have the energy to read, to think, to write. Instead, I take joy in entering my office each day at a place called Hope. I relish learning something new daily. I find delight in making words march up a screen. And I'm mellower, as it takes more to make me feel either ecstatic or despondent.

And you? Will you, as a newly minted 78-year-old, show your age? Yes, that jog up to the podium will surely slow. You will likely more often misspeak or forget a point. Your sleep will be more interrupted. But you will also benefit from the crystallized intelligence that comes with your lifetime's experience. You can harness the wisdom that comes with age. And you can give us the gift of emotional maturity that will enable you, better than most, to navigate the "battle between our better angels and our darkest impulses."

(For David Myers' other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com or follow him on Twitter: @DavidGMyers.)

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Social psychologist David Myers is a communicator of psychological science to college students and the general public. His scientific writings, supported by National Science Foundation grants and fellowships, have appeared in three dozen (more...)
 

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Joe Biden at Age 78

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