Adolescents become smarter because they become mentally quicker.
That is the conclusion of a new study by a group of psychologists at University of Texas at San Antonio. “Our findings make intuitive sense,” says lead author Thomas Coyle, who conducted the study with David Pillow, Anissa Snyder, and Peter Kochunov. But this is the first time psychologists have been able to confirm this important connection. The study appears in the forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science.
“Our research was based on two well-known findings, Coyle continues. “The first is that performance on intelligence tests increases during adolescence. The second is that processing speed”—the brain taking in and using new stimuli or information—“as measured by tests of mental speed also increases during adolescence.”
Researchers found that the older teenagers did better and worked faster than the younger ones. Then, running the data in numerous ways, they discovered that the measured increase of intelligence could be accounted for almost entirely by the increase in mental speed.
The work reinforces earlier theories about the relationship between increasing processing speed in the maturing brain and the cognitive development of children.