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A Person’s IQ May Be Subject to Improvement After All

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The University offers an online bachelor of arts in psychology and an online master of arts in psychology. These programs educate students on concepts related to intelligence and cognitive ability, on which metrics like an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) are predicated.

Traditionally, the understanding of IQ in the professional psychological community has not allowed for much fluidity in the sense that IQ could be subject to improvement at will. But new research is now challenging these conventional assumptions.

What Is an Intelligence Quotient?

First, it’s worth remembering what IQ is and is not. An Intelligence Quotient is a measure of an individual’s reasoning and problem-solving abilities as evaluated by standardized testing tools. Different tests purport to measure someone’s IQ in different ways, but usually they include some combination of assessments for short-term and long-term memory accuracy as well as recall, cognitive processing, and critical thinking.

However, IQ should not be confused with knowledge or education. It is possible for someone to be extremely learned – that is, to have absorbed and collected a lot of information – and yet have an average or even low IQ. It’s important to note that knowing things is not the same thing as intelligence.

Here’s a useful analogy to illustrate my point, using the example of home construction. Imagine knowledge and information as the materials that go into building a home. And imagine IQ as the tools and equipment (saws, hammers, and paintbrushes, for instance) that home builders use to assemble houses.

Now you could have a surplus of materials for the purpose of constructing a home. But if the builder lacks the proper tools to do the job correctly, all the materials in the world won’t help the situation. The problem doesn’t lie with insufficient inputs – it lies with deficient processes.

The Idea That It’s Impossible to Improve Your IQ Is Being Challenged

There is a traditional notion that one’s IQ is not subject to improvement. Individuals can educate themselves and learn new things, which adds to the amount of information stored in the brain.

But this new addition to an individual’s knowledge base should not, in theory, be expected to have any effect on someone’s IQ. An IQ reflects a measurement of a person’s ability to process information, not the amount of information they’ve amassed.

However, more thoughtful inquiries in recent years have challenged traditional assumptions on the subject of IQ. First, we know that your IQ isn’t really all that rigid to begin with. In fact, it’s technically changing all the time.

For example, when you’re born, your intelligence is obviously far lower than when you reach adulthood. After all, newborn babies can’t read, speak or solve math problems. But as adults, we can do all of these things with masterful dexterity.

Aging and Other Life Events Can Cause One’s IQ to Decline

We also see declines in IQ as we age into our elder years. With advanced aging, our faculties decline and our brain’s elasticity begins to deteriorate, resulting in an inhibited ability to reason and process information adeptly.

Now to be fair, many IQ metrics are age-adjusted, so the tools used to assess IQ account for the age of the person who is being evaluated. But in terms of absolute values on IQ evaluation, there is no doubt that IQ fluctuates significantly throughout the average human lifespan.

But age is not the only factor that causes fluctuations in IQ either. For example, if you’re in an accident and you suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI), it’s entirely possible that such damage to your brain could result in a reduced IQ. Additionally, it has been shown that sleep deprivation – such as that associated with the typical patterns endured by parents raising newborn children – can be enough to permanently lower IQ by several points.

So we know that reductions in IQ are possible through variable dynamics like traumatic injuries and altered sleep patterns. But can your IQ be improved by taking steps that promote brain health or cognitive function? In other words, we know we can make our IQ go down. But can we make it go up? Recent research suggests that the answer is probably yes.

Although learning new information is not the same as improving brain-processing abilities, it is possible that learning information which amounts to process upgrades could help augment your IQ. For example, if you read a book and learned that George Washington was the first President of the United States, knowing this fact is probably unlikely to help you on an IQ test, unless one of the questions happens to be about the history of the U.S. presidents.

However, suppose a question on an IQ test asks you to solve the math problem: 9 * 6 = __. If your math skills are really poor, you might just have to start counting nine sets of six (or six sets of nine) on your fingers and toes in order to get your answer.

But let’s imagine that instead of reading a book about George Washington, you read a book on mathematics and learn the basic multiplication tables. This new information actually amounts to a sudden process upgrade. Now, the math question I previously mentioned can be answered almost instantaneously from memory – and more difficult math questions that require complex multiplication suddenly become easier to solve.

Improving Your IQ

There are a number of potential ways to improve your IQ from the learning of new process upgrades to the honing of existing cognitive and reasoning skills through practice. For example, this article from Inc. identifies a number of different activities that have been scientifically shown to be positively correlated with improvements in IQ. They include:

  • Problem-solving practice with games like chess
  • Targeted physical exercise such as sprints to promote your cardiovascular fitness
  • Dietary interventions such as creatine supplements to boost your brain power
  • Promoting mental plasticity through the learning of new skills like languages and music
  • Maintaining proper rest and relaxation through sleep and meditation

When all is said and done, it seems that we probably have more control over our optimum IQ than professional psychologists once thought. So it would behoove us to make the most of this opportunity and pursue those activities that are likely to give us the biggest boosts to our cognitive abilities. The sky is the limit.

Dr. Gary Deel is an Associate Professor with the Wallace E. Boston School of Business. He holds a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Public University and American Military University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.

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