You're probably most creative when you're at this age
If you’re spending your mid-20s suffering under the weight of unpaid internships and menial-labor jobs, it may be time to consider a creative side gig. It turns out that the age when you’re (probably) most creative is 25, so if you’re not maximizing your creative energy right now — what are you waiting for?
Recent research on the brain’s ability to think and make decisions randomly — rather than according to a set pattern — found that the ability to use random thinking (i.e. creative, non-linear thinking) peaks at age 25 and trails off until around age 60, when it declines sharply.
The study’s authors assessed more than 3,400 people, aged 4 to 91 years old, to determine the age at which we humans hit “peak random.” They found that other factors, including sex, language, and education, had very little to do with the ability to behave randomly, while age made a big difference.
They asked participants to complete five tasks, including “listing the hypothetical results of a series of 12 coin flips so that they would ‘look random to somebody else,’ guessing which card would appear when selected from a randomly shuffled deck, and listing the hypothetical results of 10 rolls of a die.” They found that the ability to behave randomly peaked at 25.
This may seem like a “so what?” kind of study — because who cares about being random?
But actually, the researchers behind it say the more a person is able to behave randomly, the higher their cognitive function is. And higher cognitive function skills include creative thinking and decision-making.
If you’re not 25 anymore, though, don’t sweat it. A study that examined the age at which artists (including composers, painters, and writers) produced their best work found that “peak creative” was around 42. Yet another study, this time of physicists, found that those creative thinkers typically make their biggest discoveries around age 48.
And the inimitable Malcolm Gladwell once wrote in the New Yorker that true creative genius often comes with age. He asks of “late bloomers,” or artists who found their stride late in their careers, “Whenever we find a late bloomer, we can’t but wonder how many others like him or her we have thwarted because we prematurely judged their talents.”
So if you’re still finding your creative groove and you’re past 25, don’t despair. You might not be Orson Welles, who made Citizen Kane at 25, but you could be the painter Cézanne, who produced his best work right before his death. Long live the artist!