This article from the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal describes the research of Professor Dean Simonton and others regarding the productivity of researchers in various fields. Simonton sought to examine whether breakthrough work seemed to be the product of the young, i.e. scientists and scholars in their 20s and 30s. Indeed, Simonton's work shows that, in fields such as physics, scholars perform groundbreaking work in their late 20s. In a number of fields, scholars seem to peak in their 20s and 30s. Simonton explains that scientists may peak at an early age in many fields because they are more willing to challenge conventional wisdom and consider novel explanations. Is the early peak age true in all fields? According to Simonton, it is not. Areas with well-defined theories and principles, such as chess, math, and physics, tend to see people peaking at a young age. Fields with more ambiguity skew toward a later age for peak productivity.
A lesson for all of us can be derived from these conclusions. We all need to seek out novelty as we grow older, to combat the natural tendency for us to get wedded to ideas, theories, and principles to which we are accustomed. Cognitive science now shows that novelty spurs the brain in many ways. Attempting to learn new things as we grow older forms a sort of exercise for the brain that may have many benefits.