Fluid intelligence necessarily decreases with age


If one wants to assess the performance and qualification capabilities of older people with regard to the forecasted future innovation function of older workforces in companies, one can now fall back on well-documented gerontological research on the physical and cognitive development of older people. [see. e.g. Neumann 1994, Lehr 1990, Olbrich 1990]
In recent years and decades, gerontological research has increasingly focused on research methods with a different perspective [see. Neumann 1994: p. 69] to research the performance potential of aging and old people. Last but not least, it was probably also about correcting the prevailing deficit model of old age with its seemingly unjust one-sided negative attributions.

In the context of the question of age and ability to innovate, it is important at this point to ask about the actual possibilities of service provision and qualification processes. Both performance and qualification are tied to the physical and cognitive foundations and requirements of the aging human organism. The necessary conditions must be in place here if future operational innovation is to be built on older workforces.

In the following, the more recent research status and the resulting turn in the performance assessment of older people will have to be documented in a nutshell.

Whereas in the past, in keeping with the deficit model, the thesis was put forward that "among employees, a decline in qualifications and performance is generally associated with advancing age", today one advocates "in many cases the thesis that qualifications change with increasing age" (Gaugler nd: p. 2). In addition to the change in perspective from downsizing to qualification change, there is even talk of increasing qualifications with age with regard to some factors. [This refers, for example, to the maximum intelligence in the area of ​​crystalline intelligence; cf. Olbrich 1990: p. 138f. as well as further down in the text.]

This change of perspective is based on a new gerontological theory model. As a result of past and the basis of new studies, this theoretical model assumes a differentiated view of aging and old age. The decisive factor here is that all age developments of all people are no longer seen under the one dimension of degradation and decay, but rather a differentiation according to 1) differences between the individual individuals (inter-individual variability of aging processes), 2) according to differences in aging processes in different organs and functions within an individual (intra-individual variability or multidirectionality of aging processes) and 3)

Differences in physical and cognitive development (plasticity of behavior, i.e. modifiability or ability to change learning behavior). [see. Neumann 1994: p. 68f.]

Briefly summarized, this model says that everyone ages at a different point in time and in a different way (1), that everyone ages differently with increases and decreases in certain functions (2) and everyone still has the ability to change behavior within his aging process (3) owns. The respective biography also has a decisive effect on the beginning and type of the aging process. [see. Neumann 1994: p. 72]
Unfavorable living conditions (e.g. poor health care, hard and unbalanced work, stress, financial hardship, etc.) naturally have a negative effect on age development.

Using such a differentiated model, gerontological research came to empirical findings that are of central importance for the topic of the innovative ability of older workforces dealt with here. Only the most important findings are to be addressed here by way of example, broken down according to physical and cognitive development.

Bodily development:

The human organism, i.e. bones, muscle strength and muscle performance, lungs and cardiovascular system, is fundamentally subject to age-related and usage-related (i.e. often work-related) wear and tear, but can, and this is the decisive new knowledge, about preventive and compensatory training and Exercise activities are kept at the level of performance of younger people - and in some cases even at the top level. This possibility of maintaining performance is based, among other things, on the body's own "repair and compensation mechanisms" (Neumann 1994: p. 76) to maintain survival functions. However, training does not revise aging, but "stops harmful influences on critical functional systems" (Neumann 1994: P. 76). Here, too, the factors of personal biography and lifestyle play a decisive role in maintaining physical functions. [see. on physical development in detail Neumann 1994: pp. 70-77 as well as Lehr 1990: pp. 110f.]

In summary, one can say that the physical development in old age does not necessarily lead to a continuous and unstoppable decline, which ultimately leads to the uselessness of the labor of older people.

Cognitive development:

The cognitive development of older people is viewed in a much more differentiated and multi-layered manner compared to physical development. A distinction is made between the sub-areas of psychomotor skills, intelligence, attention, memory and learning, as well as motivation and flexibility.

Findings from psychomotor skills, which investigate the reaction speed of the limbs to environmental stimuli, i.e. the conversion of e.g. work organization requirements into actions, show that there are age-related differences, but also age-constant reaction patterns. For example, it turned out that for simple reaction requirements the reaction times do not vary over age, but this is the case for complex task requirements with corresponding complex movement sequences. If, on the other hand, one considers the speed of reaction to verbal utterances to a stimulus (e.g. answers

there are no age-related differences in reaction speed. [see. Neumann 1994: pp. 77-78]

Here, too, a more differentiated pattern of aging can be seen; Only when translating complex requirements into complex movements of the limbs (e.g. operating many levers and buttons on a machine under time pressure) are the older ones slower, otherwise the reaction behavior is the same.

The gerontological research on the development of intelligence in old age has produced remarkable and far-reaching results for the question of the ability to innovate with older employees. Most researchers use the "2-factor theory of crystallized and fluid intelligence" (Neumann 1994: p. 78) as a basis. This states that intelligence consists of two central dimensions: first of all, crystalline intelligence, which is the pragmatics of the Thinking, that is, thought content, cultural knowledge and intelligence called a knowledge system, and secondly from fluid intelligence, which mechanics, that is, processing speed and intelligence called cognitive basic operations. In simpler terms, it can be said that fluid intelligence for the speed of thinking, learning , Problem solving, etc. is responsible and the crystalline intelligence represents the arsenal of the knowledge that has been accumulated and learned so far.

It is now crucial that both dimensions of intelligence develop differently in the course of age. While fluid intelligence, i.e. the mechanics of thinking, decreases with age, i.e. thinking generally slows down, crystalline intelligence, i.e. the pragmatics of thinking, remains largely constant or even gains in capacity. Language skills, social intelligence or even professional knowledge, to name just a few examples, do not decrease with age, but can even increase a few degrees. [see. Neumann 1994: pp. 78-83]

Diametrically contrary to the implications of the old deficit model, the literature even speaks of the fact that "today we only measure maximum intelligence in the area of ​​crystalline abilities in the 4th and 5th decades of life" (Olbrich 1990: 138f.). [see. also Lehr 1990: p. 112f.] This phenomenon of the late intelligence maxima of crystalline intelligence is seen within a socio-historical development complex. Due to the improved living conditions (education system, media, travel, socio-cultural and technological changes), it is argued, there is a shift in the intelligence maximum.

In addition, it is reported that the generations of today - compared to the generations of 50 or 70 years ago, for example - generally have an average higher level of intelligence and an average later decline in intelligence performance (so-called cohort-specific intelligence development). [see. Olbrich 1990: p. 139]

The development of intelligence in old age is in turn influenced by personal biography, e.g. educational requirements and professional requirements as well as health and personal motivations. The development of intelligence in old age (e.g. the ability to learn) can again be improved through training to such an extent that in some functions differences to the younger generation can be partially or completely eliminated in a longer or shorter period of time. [see. Neumann 1994: p. 83]

From these findings on the development of intelligence in old age it can be stated that although the speed of thinking, processing and information (fluid intelligence) decreases, the components of knowledge (crystalline intelligence) remain constant or even increase.

The importance of steady and increasing crystalline intelligence for the ability to innovate with older workforces becomes even clearer if one takes into account the learning process in older people. It is reported, for example, that learning can be more unusual or inefficient in old age due to lack of practice, but this can be compensated for by training, but one must assume that what has been learned is "more differentiated into a cognitive structure developed through individual experience" . "Learning in adulthood," it goes on, presupposes an "individual connection to contexts of meaning". "As a rule, new knowledge is embedded in complex, holistic contexts of meaning; extreme specialization of learning is seldom observed in adults" (Olbrich 1990: p. 137f.).

This and the resulting consequence for dealing with contextual knowledge is probably also due to the fact described above that the filling of the important management and control functions, which require precisely this quality of the overview, is carried out in the companies by older employees.

In connection with age and intelligence, however, it is repeatedly emphasized that the learning conditions and skills of older people are different from those of younger people who are thus used to learning. The speed of learning in particular slows down, which necessarily follows from the knowledge about fluid intelligence in old age. The "less favorable learning strategies" (Neumann 1994: p. 85) of the elderly result not only from unlearning learning but also for health, educational and professional reasons but can be optimized "(Neumann 1994: p. 85). Learning models to compensate for existing learning deficits are also conceivable, which do justice to the increased time and context conditions of learning of old people. [see. Olbrich 1990: p. 138, Neumann 1994: p. 85ff. ]
This point will have to be dealt with in more detail in the chapter on further training for older employees to be dealt with below.

Furthermore, gerontological research has dealt with the subject of attention performance. The most important findings here are that there are no differences in attention behavior in the visual area, but considerable differences in the auditory area. Furthermore, the ability of sustained attention is lower in the elderly, while short attention spans do not vary according to age. However, these results do not mean that there is an "age-related decrease in vigilance (alertness)" (Neumann 1994: p. 85). Rather, an inter-individual variability pattern can be assumed here.

The findings on the motivation, motivation and flexibility of older people are also interesting. Just as with the other dimensions of age, one cannot assume here an irrevocable decline and decay. Rather, the properties mentioned are found to be constant over a lifetime and, instead of being related to age, are related to the specific personality traits of each individual. [see. Neumann 1994: pp. 89-91]

In addition, a trend can be identified with these characteristics, which has already been observed in the development of intelligence: flexibility (of behavior, attitudes), rigidity and the fluidity of associations are cohort-specific. The younger generations expand

sen to be much more flexible compared to the older generations. [see. Olbrich 1990: pp. 140f.] This finding could certainly be explained by the changed living conditions within a changing socio-cultural environment.

In summary, it can be said that the implications of the deficit model are incorrect. The more recent gerontological research shows quite well that there are aging processes in all functions of the human body, but that they are not synonymous with degradation and decay. Rather, certain performance functions can be maintained or even increased. However, it is also not to be denied that a few functions, e.g. hearing, decrease with age.

The differentiated approach to the respective functions of the organism and the individual individuals is of particular relevance. This perspective prohibits the maintenance of a negatively connoted deficit model of old age. On the other hand, the deficit model sees its justification threatened by the findings on cohort-specific development. Today's 50-year-olds are no longer to be lumped together with the 50-year-olds from 1910, 1920, etc. Not only the social conditions, but also the individual living conditions of people that are necessarily linked to it are changing.

On the basis of such findings on the productivity of older employees, the question of innovative ability with aging workforces can be posed differently than it would have been possible 30 years ago. What becomes clear here is the fact that the aging and old people, just like the younger ones, have a general potential of performance and qualification characteristics, albeit partially changed. An outsourcing of the elderly from the work and production process based on a specific workforce seems to be difficult to justify with the arguments of reduced performance.

The findings of gerontological research should not be understood to mean that there are in fact no work-related signs of wear and tear in older people. The central premise of the research results presented above is that signs of wear and tear with the character of decay in specific functions do not occur if preventive and continuous attention is paid to balancing, compensating, training and exercising with regard to the critical functions. Since this is hardly the case at the moment in work practice, signs of wear and tear can actually be observed. Accordingly, these do not arise from the nature of the human organism itself, but from the specific conditions under which work has to be carried out.

The gerontological studies have shown "that typical performance problems of older workers are not the expression of biological determinism in the sense of age-related degradation processes, but in wide areas the expression and result of a process of the concrete use of human capital in work" (Naegele 1994, 329). [see. also Barkholdt et al. 1995: p. 428]
With regard to the intelligence and learning ability development of older employees, this means, for example, that "the unlearning of learning ability .. in general ... is not to be regarded as a result of age, but as a result of misuse, ie it is among other things the result of a work biography with a lack of continuous work-related learning requirements and learning opportunities "(Barkholdt et al. 1995: p. 428).

If one wants to maintain the company's ability to innovate in the future with older employees, a fundamental change in the concrete use of manpower by aging and old people is consequently necessary according to what has been presented here. Not overexploiting the labor of the individual, but only the careful preservation of human capital can enable a desired performance into old age. On the basis of this knowledge, various concepts on the subject of age and the future of the company are being considered.

© Friedrich Ebert Foundation | technical support | net edition fes-library | November 2000