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The neural determinants of age-related changes in fluid intelligence: a pre-registered, longitudinal analysis in UK Biobank.

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Kievit, Rogier A 
Fuhrmann, Delia 
Borgeest, Gesa Sophia 
Simpson-Kent, Ivan L 
Henson, Richard NA 


Background: Fluid intelligence declines with advancing age, starting in early adulthood. Within-subject declines in fluid intelligence are highly correlated with contemporaneous declines in the ability to live and function independently. To support healthy aging, the mechanisms underlying these declines need to be better understood. Methods: In this pre-registered analysis, we applied latent growth curve modelling to investigate the neural determinants of longitudinal changes in fluid intelligence across three time points in 185,317 individuals (N=9,719 two waves, N=870 three waves) from the UK Biobank (age range: 39-73 years). Results: We found a weak but significant effect of cross-sectional age on the mean fluid intelligence score, such that older individuals scored slightly lower. However, the mean longitudinal slope was positive, rather than negative, suggesting improvement across testing occasions. Despite the considerable sample size, the slope variance was non-significant, suggesting no reliable individual differences in change over time. This null-result is likely due to the nature of the cognitive test used. In a subset of individuals, we found that white matter microstructure (N=8839, as indexed by fractional anisotropy) and grey-matter volume (N=9931) in pre-defined regions-of-interest accounted for complementary and unique variance in mean fluid intelligence scores. The strongest effects were such that higher grey matter volume in the frontal pole and greater white matter microstructure in the posterior thalamic radiations were associated with higher fluid intelligence scores. Conclusions: In a large preregistered analysis, we demonstrate a weak but significant negative association between age and fluid intelligence. However, we did not observe plausible longitudinal patterns, instead observing a weak increase across testing occasions, and no significant individual differences in rates of change, likely due to the suboptimal task design. Finally, we find support for our preregistered expectation that white- and grey matter make separate contributions to individual differences in fluid intelligence beyond age.



Aging, Biobank, cognitive aging, fluid intelligence, grey matter, individual differences, structural equation modelling, white matter

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Wellcome Open Research

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MRC (unknown)
European Commission (732592)
MRC (Unknown)
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/H008217/1)
Wellcome Trust (107392/Z/15/Z)
Medical Research Council (MC_UU_00005/8)
Medical Research Council (MC_UP_1401/1)
Medical Research Council (MC_UU_00005/9)