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Behavioral Sciences





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Maintaining cognitive health across the lifespan has been the focus of a multi-billion-dollar industry. In order to guide treatment and interventions, a clear understanding of the way that proficiency in different cognitive domains develops and declines in both sexes across the lifespan is necessary. Additionally, there are sex differences in a range of other factors, including psychiatric illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and substance use, that are also known to affect cognition, although the scale of this interaction is unknown. Our objective was to assess differences in cognitive function across the lifespan in men and women in a large, representative sample. Leveraging online cognitive testing, a sample of 9451 men and 9451 women ranging in age from 12 to 69 (M = 28.21) matched on socio-demographic factors were studied. Segmented regression was used to model three cognitive domains—working memory, verbal abilities, and reasoning. Sex differences in all three domains were minimal; however, after broadening the sample in terms of socio-demographic factors, sex differences appeared. These results suggest that cognition across the lifespan differs for men and women, but is greatly influenced by environmental factors. We discuss these findings within a framework that describes sex differences in cognition as likely guided by a complex interplay between biology and environment.