What is Mental Age?

This describes the age of a child based on his intelligence. The mental age (MA) can be above or below the biological age of a child, but usually, it is believed that intelligence increases as a child grows biologically. In other words, mental age is an individual’s level of mental ability. It’s based on the age taken by an average individual to reach that same level of mental attainment. Typically, standardized intelligence tests are used to measure mental age.

Alfred Binet – a French psychologist, was the first to define mental age and launch the intelligence test in 1905. With his student Theodore Simon, he developed the Binet-Simon Scale, which acted as the basis for the Stanford-Binet test. This test uses five factors of cognitive ability to measure intelligence. These factors are knowledge, fluid reasoning, working memory, visual-spatial processing, and quantitative reasoning. This test measures both non-verbal and verbal responses. Each of these five factors is assigned a weight, and the collective score is often condensed to a ratio called the IQ or intelligence quotient.

If a child’s chronological and mental ages are identical, he has an IQ of 100, which refers to average intelligence. However, if a 10-year old scores 130 on an IQ test, he would have a mental age of 13 (the age-appropriate average score is 100; thus, MA = (130/100) × 10 = 13). As adults’ average mental age doesn’t increase past age 18, an adult who takes an IQ test is allocated the chronological age of 18.

Stanford-Binet test’s early versions computed a child’s mental age based on how well he performed on the test. But the idea of mental age is fairly debatable. Supporters of mental age deem that even though the rate of children’s intellectual development differs, the path of such development is fundamentally the same for all of them. They also consider mental age less meaningful for adults since adult intelligence changes slightly from year to year.

Opponents of mental age disagree with the concept and believe that intellectual development doesn’t follow a linear path. They say some people may develop specific intellectual abilities faster compared to their other intellectual skills. For instance, a 15-year-old may understand advanced college-level math but read quite below his grade level. Even intelligence tests have triggered a lot of controversy regarding what types of mental abilities make up intelligence and if the IQ represents these abilities adequately. 

Some people also argue that such tests’ construction and standardization procedures are culturally biased. Many critics believe that intelligence tests favor students from more prosperous backgrounds and discriminate against those who’re less privileged socially, ethnically, or racially. As a result, psychologists have tried to design culture-free tests that truly reflect a student’s native ability. One such test was Leon Rosenberg’s Johns Hopkins Perceptual Test (in the early 1960s) to evaluate preschool children’s intelligence by letting them try to match random forms. It avoided ordinary geometric forms, such as squares, circles, and triangles, because some children may be more familiar with them than others are.

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