Can You Improve Intelligence and IQ?
The consistency of an individual’s IQ scores over time has been interpreted as showing that IQ is mostly genetically determined. This view has been popularized by the influential book on IQ and group differences in IQ - The Bell Curve. The Bell Curve, published in 1996 by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, made waves by arguing that intelligence is a singular, definable, measurable quantity that is highly heritable.
But growing evidence shows that intelligence can change over time as a function of a person’s learning and life experiences (for reviews, see Flynn, 2000; Nisbett, 2009). You can improve intelligence and IQ. This evidence is supported by research on frontal cortex neuroplasticity showing that the brain is highly plastic and changeable in its information processing circuitry.
The science tells us there are in fact a number of ways in which you can increase your IQ.
IQ Increasing Technologies: A Review
Here we look at the most effective IQ-increasing interventions that have a firm scientific basis – a basis in experimental laboratories and the exacting standards of peer reviewed scientific journals. The methods described or linked to below are part of the accumulated understanding of the scientific community about what can increase IQ – not just temporarily but long-term. Cognitive-enhancing nutrition, fasting, exercise and meditation is not covered in this review, which focuses on the use of intervention technologies.
Brain Training Software: N-back Training
Far-reaching advances in cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience over the past decade have identified a close link between frontal lobe ‘working memory’ circuitry, and fronto-parietal problem solving, self-control and fluid reasoning circuitry. Our working memory is used for holding information in mind (images, concepts, language, numbers) for brief periods while engaging in active, goal-focused thinking or comprehension, while screening out distracting information. Working memory has a limited capacity, and the bigger that capacity the more the cognitive ‘RAM’ power a person has for processing information – to make connections, generate alternatives, and grasp relationships. This brainpower lies at the core of being smart. If super brain Eddie Morra in Limitless changed one thing in his brain, it was his working memory circuitry!
Software has now been developed for selectively targeting working memory circuitry, resulting in long term neuroplasticity changes increasing short term memory capacity, problem solving ability, self-control and overall IQ. This software is based on a training exercise called the n-back. A scientifically credible version of this software is HighIQPro.
A review published this year on the effectiveness of n-back working memory training by an old grad school friend, Dr Jason Chein, concludes:
“there is a rapidly growing number of studies demonstrating that training-related increases in working memory capacity can yield improvements in a range of important cognitive skills (Chein & Morrison, 2010) as well as improved cognitive function in clinical populations with known WM deficiencies”
“core working memory training studies seem to produce far-reaching transfer effects, likely because they target domain-general mechanisms of working memory. The results of individual studies encourage optimism regarding the value of working memory training as a tool for general cognitive enhancement.”
In choosing an n-back working memory training application, ensure that you have a version and training program that has been demonstrated to increase IQ in a published scientific study – such as the landmark paper by Dr. Susan Jaeggi and colleagues (link) that first drew public attention to the benefits of n-back training. There are a number of n-back training programs on the market that do not replicate what is known to work. Avoid them.
Two other established methods for increasing IQ are using nootropics, and cortical stimulation (e.g. tDCS). Click here for my own review - How To Increase IQ? Working Memory Training, Smart Drugs and tDCS Reviewed.
Flynn, J.R. (2000) IQ trends over time: intelligence, race, and meritocracy. In K. Arrow, S. Bowles, & S. Durlauf (eds.), Meritocracy and economic inequality, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press 35-60
Mayer, R. E., & Wittrock, R. C. (2006). Problem solving. In P. A. Alexander & P. H. Winne (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology(2nd ed., pp. 287–304). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. (For a review, click here)
McNab, F., Varrone, A., Farde, L., Jucaite, A., Bystritsky, P., Forssberg, H., & Klingberg, T. (2009). Changes in Cortical Dopamine D1 Receptor Binding Associated with Cognitive Training, Science, 6, 323, 800 – 802.
Morrison, A. & Chein, J. (2011). Does working memory training work? The promise and challenges of enhancing cognition by training working memory. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, Volume 18, Number 1, February 2011 , pp. 46-60(15)
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