Cognitive Health Nootropics

Can We Really Increase Our Intelligence?

According to the psychological literature available, there are two general prospects of intelligence: the uniform one, evaluated in school, which basically addresses linguistic & logical-mathematical intelligence; and the Pluralistic View of Mind, proposed by Howard Gardner in his acclaimed theory of Multiple Intelligences. Two different theories that demand two very different -and eventually opposed- answers to the inquiry of intelligence enhancement.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is a certain type of measurement of intellectual ability that came in due to devotion to universal formal education. Thus, IQ tests have been shown to be moderately correlated with grades in elementary, primary, and high school; job performance; professional status; and number of years in school[1]. In this way, the prevalence of IQ tests imply a certain Hereditarian Theory of Intelligence that is rather invariable and stable across time among healthy individuals. According to this approach, intelligence is a unitary entity, an abstraction of an all-purpose system that permeates uniformly in all intellectual activity. Therefore, according to this prospect, the primary basis of intelligence is primarily genetically determined.

Indisputably, IQ tests are limited in some of its applications and have interpretation problems. They do not appropriately assess the role of motivation (it is likely that motivated individuals put more effort in IQ tests and hence score higher), creativity, social skills, practical intelligence, or wisdom, just for mentioning some relevant variables. Nevertheless, Charles Spearman has demonstrated[2], interestingly, that the various subsets that conform the IQ inventory are positively correlated, labeled as the factor G to stand for the general factor that underlies all intellectual ability. This generic problem solving system is what is popularly called “fluid intelligence”, an empirical argument that  rather supports a hereditarian or genetic theory of intelligence.

Indeed, available data from twins research suggest that genes are a primary determinant of this view of intelligence[3]. Thus, there is an important group of psychologists and brain & mind scientists who do not think that it is possible to modify your factor G, even though it is not completely clear how this factor and the environment interact with each other[4]. For instance, Jack Naglieri, an intelligence expert from University of Virginia, prevents us to not confuse ability with knowledge. The right way of measuring intelligence, he argues, is to quantify those abilities that underlie the acquisition of knowledge, independently from the knowledge itself. Thus, this psychologist is implying that intelligence is something relatively independent of the learning experience.

Nonetheless, a renowned article published in the journal Nature by Price and her colleagues challenged this immutable view of intelligence[5]. The study had 33 adolescents, who were 12 to 16-years-old when the study initiated. Price and her team gave them IQ tests, tracked them for four years, and then tested them again with the same measurement tools. The fluctuations in IQ were outstanding: not about a couple points, but 20-plus IQ points. These changes in IQ scores, according to the researchers, were not random — they tracked elegantly with structural and functional brain imaging. Thus, there is also an important group of scientists that maintain that many of the changes in IQ are correlated to changes in the environment, particularly schooling.

It’s analogous to fitness. A teenager who is athletically fit at 14 could be less fit at 18 if they stopped exercising. Conversely, an unfit teenager can become much fitter with exercise.

Furthermore, there is also a certain number of studies that have shown brain changes after several kinds of educational regimens. The study about Tokyo taxi drivers is a especially distinguished one[6]. Scientists conducted memory, visual and spatial information tests and took brain scans using MRI of 79 male trainee Tokyo taxi drivers at the beginning of their training regimen. At the beginning of the study, no variance was found in their brain structure or memory. Three to four years later, however, scientists found a considerable increase in grey matter in the posterior hippocampi, among the 39 trains who performed as taxi drivers. Naturally, this change was not observed in the non-taxi drivers. Thus, this kind of studies suggest that the brain can change to accommodate new knowledge, so future programs for lifelong learning are possible[7].

To sum up, it is not fully clear What intelligence is[8], and hence How to directly increase it.[9] Nonetheless, we can consider intelligence, for practical purposes, as a starting point in life. Naturally, we are born with certain capacities and particular features, but it is later in life when we discover and develop them, regardless of our individual  genetic background. Thus, instead of frustratingly trying to increase your “G” factor (since we do not have a general consensus and determinant scientific evidence yet), what you can do is focus in your multiple crystallized intelligences: the ability to use skills, knowledge, and experience. If you are a scientist, observe and analyze information; if you are a philosopher, organize it and turn it into knowledge; if you are an artist, interpret it. Different areas of intelligence have different weights of importance in each person’s occupational life, and you can definitely get better at specific activities through practice and discipline.

References   [ + ]

1, 8. Intelligence and Achievement: Just how Correlated are they?
2, 9. Summary of Psychology topic Intelligence g Factor
3. McGue , M. Bouchard , T. J. , Jr Iacono , W. G. Lykken , D. T. (1993). Behavioral genetics of cognitive ability: A life-span perspective. In R. Plomin G. E. McClearn (Eds.), Nature, nurture, and psychology (pp. 59-76). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association
4. Nature-nurture and intelligence.
5. Brain scans support findings that IQ can rise or fall significantly during adolescence
6. The Use of Geospatial Information and Spatial Cognition of Taxi Drivers in Tokyo
7. Nurture net of nature: Re-evaluating the role of shared environments in academic achievement and verbal intelligence