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What Is Your Mental Age? Take This 5-Minute Test To Find Out

Sarah Regan
Author:
December 11, 2022
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
December 11, 2022
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Whether you've been told you're an old soul or you feel like you're a teenager in an adult's body, all of us have a "mental age," and it's not always how old we actually are. Here's what mental age is all about, plus a quick quiz to find out yours.

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What is mental age? 

Mental age is "a person's mental ability expressed as the age at which an average person reaches the same ability," per the Oxford dictionary. In terms of the research1 and science behind it, mental age is most often used when assessing young children with developmental disorders, such as Down syndrome or autism, whose mental age may not align with how old they actually are.

As psychotherapist Annette Nuñez, Ph.D., LMFT, tells mbg, she equates mental age with things like executive function, emotional development, and overall maturity. These things, she says, usually come to us with time as we get older, but for some people, they may feel, act, or think in ways that indicate a younger mental age.

According to clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., what we consider maturity "is generally defined as the ability to wisely and appropriately manage developmental responsibilities in mental, emotional, behavioral, and social arenas," as well as other forms of maturity like physical maturity, developmental stage maturity, and career maturity.

The mental age test:

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History of the mental age test. 

As aforementioned, much of the research on mental age is to assess children's abilities relative to the age they actually are. As psychology and brain research took off in the early 1900s, studies began looking into where children ought to be developmentally by certain ages (for example, being able to read by the age of 6).

Since then, much of the research has stayed in the realm of studying children with developmental disorders. But as interest in longevity grows, so, too, does research into the aging brain.

"While there's no test you can take at home to definitively say how 'old' or 'young' your brain is, we can think of a young and healthy brain as being at peak function," brain researcher Marc Milstein, Ph.D., writes in his book The Age-Proof Brain. He notes that factors like balance and coordination, sharp memory, and the ability to get through the day effectively are all tied to how "old" your brain is. And as Milstein explained on a recent episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, your brain can actually appear older than your actual age, too.

Are mental age tests accurate? 

In terms of the general population, finding out your mental age is more about how you feel and behave than any real diagnostic measures. Most of the quizzes you'll find online (ours included) are asking questions to get a sense of the age you think or feel you are, and they aren't going to give you the same information you might learn from a brain scan, for example.

Nevertheless, it can be fun and entertaining to take a quiz for self-discovery purposes and even to help you identify areas for growth if your mental age isn't what you'd like it to be.

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How to understand your mental age test results. 

According to Nuñez, some people are simply old souls, while others have a more youthful spirit, and there's nothing wrong with that. "As long as you're living your life to the fullest and being your authentic self, that's what matters," she says.

But on the off chance that you're unhappy with your quiz results, here's what she recommends.

If your mental age is younger than you actually are.

If you're unhappy that your mental age is younger than you actually are, Nuñez notes that an older mental age will come with more experience and emotional development. You can't expect to learn anything new, or change at all, if you don't get out of your comfort zone, so consider starting there.

There are also plenty of books and online resources about emotional intelligence (EQ), maturity, and personal growth, such as our guide to improving EQ.

But Nuñez also emphasizes the importance of self-acceptance and reframing limiting beliefs about yourself. If you're 35 and feel like you're 18, how can you look at it as something beneficial and unique to you?

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If your mental age is older than you actually are.

A lot of factors can make someone's mental age older than they actually are. For one thing, you may have just always been an old soul since you were young, or certain experiences may have caused you to mature faster than you would have liked. Health factors can also influence an aging brain, making it (and subsequently you) age more quickly, which will certainly influence how you think and feel.

In general, minding your health (especially brain health) is sure to make you feel younger. There are brain exercises you can do as you age to keep the mind sharp, for example. Milstein also recommends brain-healthy habits like walking with friends (which research2 says can help ward off dementia, BTW), getting enough exercise, eating a nutritious diet, and getting adequate rest.

Additionally, whether our mental age is young or old, we should always strive to keep learning for the sake of our brains and personal development. As Milstein writes in his book, "Think of your brain like a bank account; the more deposits we make, the less our net worth is affected by withdrawals. We make deposits (new connections) by learning new things; as we age and naturally lose some of those connections, there are simply more remaining."

Ultimately, though, an older mental age often translates to wisdom, and Nuñez notes there can be benefits to your mature mindset. "No matter what age you are, it's so important to keep a healthy mindset and reframe any negative thinking around what makes you, you," she tells mbg.

FAQ

What is mental age?

Mental age is a representation of a person's mental ability, expressed as the age at which the average person reaches that same level of ability.

Is mental age the same as maturity?

Mental age encompasses factors that do, indeed, relate to maturity, with "mature" defined as "having reached an advanced stage of mental or emotional development characteristic of an adult." But just because someone's mental age is younger than they really are, that doesn't necessarily mean they're immature—they may just be youthful and hip. Likewise, having an older mental age doesn't always equate to maturity. So it's not black and white, but the two are definitely related.

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The takeaway. 

The bottom line is we all have a mental age, and it may not be the same as the age we actually are. Knowing your mental age can help give you a sense of where you're at in your personal development and, further, how you might be able to improve certain aspects or qualities about yourself.

Sarah Regan
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.