Coined in Europe in 1912, IQ (intelligence quotient) was designed as an objective score to identify those requiring educational help. Although perhaps well-intentioned, many scientists have called into question its validity, with some claiming IQ tests are inherently biased in favour of white, Western participants. Others have claimed IQ doesn’t take into account the many facets of intelligence, such as social, musical and mathematical ability.
Whether valid or not, one thing is clear: IQs in several countries are increasing. Scores across western European countries, Japan and South Korea rose an average of three points per decade until the 1990s. Known as the ‘Flynn Effect’ (named after intelligence researcher James Flynn), experts ascribe this to improved nutrition, better schooling, fewer infectious diseases and a more stimulating environment.
However, actively working towards increasing your IQ is not easy. One long-term study found that it took five years of intensive intervention in infancy to increase IQ by only a few points.
But if you want to increase all-round intelligence rather than IQ, there may be more scope. Although not identifying direct causal links, an Imperial College London survey of over 250,000 people found that those who read a lot scored more highly for verbal intelligence and gamers scored more highly for working memory.
The most effective known intelligence booster? Exercise. A University of South Wales study suggested that aerobic exercise can increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a hormone essential for new brain cells and connections.
Similarly, a University of British Columbia study suggests that regular aerobic exercise boosts the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.
While the jury’s out on whether attempting to increase your IQ is worth it, you might just find increased exercise, reading and gaming are ultimately more rewarding than a number on a scale.
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Asked by: Michael Huskins, Manchester
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