Mental age is a measure of an individual’s mental attainment based on the age in which it takes an average individual to reach that same level of attainment. Explore mental age, how it differs from chronological age, and more.

What Is Mental Age?

Imagine that you are observing a group of 12-year-old boys. You notice that they all look very different from each other, even though they are the same age. Some boys are more muscular, while others are tall and thin.

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You notice that some have already started their growth spurt, while others have yet to follow. You also notice that some boys are stronger and can endure more physical activities than their same-age counterparts. Just as these boys differ in their physical capabilities and characteristics, they also differ in their mental capabilities and characteristics, even though they are all the same age.So what exactly do we mean by mental age? Mental age is the age level of an individual’s mental ability. It is based on the age in which it takes an average individual to reach that same level of mental attainment. Mental age is usually measured by standardized intelligence tests.

For example, early versions of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales calculated a mental age based on how well a child performed on the test.The concept of mental age is somewhat debatable. Those who support mental age believe that even though children develop intellectually at different rates, the path of intellectual development is essentially the same for all children. They also believe that mental age is less meaningful for adults because adult intelligence changes very little year to year.Those who do not agree with the concept believe that intellectual development is not a straight path. Rather, some individuals may develop certain intellectual abilities faster than they develop other intellectual abilities. For example, a 16-year-old may read well below his grade level, but may be able to understand advanced college-level math.

Mental Age Vs. Chronological Age

When people ask how old you are, they are asking for your chronological age. Your chronological age is based on the date you were born.

However, your mental age is based on your intellectual development. If your mental age is the same as your chronological age, then you are said to be of average intelligence. That is, you have reached the same level of intellectual development as the average person at your chronological age.For children who are gifted, their mental age is above their chronological age. For children who have conditions that interfere with intellectual development, such as Down’s Syndrome or mental retardation, their mental age is usually far below their chronological age.

So, why is mental age important? Imagine that you were working with an 11-year-old client whose mental age and chronological age were the same. Let’s say you were also working with another 11-year-old; however, his mental age was seven. Would you take the same approach to treatment with these two clients? Probably not.In order for your treatments and interventions to work, they need to be developmentally appropriate. That is, you need to take the child’s level of intellectual development into account and make sure that your approaches meet the child on his/her developmental level. You also want to make sure that the client can understand the activities that you will be working on. You can tailor your material to fit his/her level of intellectual development.

Lesson Summary

Mental age is a measure of an individual’s mental attainment based on the age it takes an average individual to reach that same level of attainment. Mental age is based on your intellectual development, while chronological age is based on your date of birth. There are some who support the concept of mental age, while others believe that it has no value. Knowing a person’s mental age can help you develop treatments that are developmentally appropriate.


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