IQ has been a hot topic in psychology, with experts debating everything from how intelligence should be measured to the very nature of intelligence itself. The question of whether or not you can increase your IQ has also become a major point of interest.
Despite the various conversations and controversies, IQ tests have become one of the most popular types of psychological assessments used today. One question many people might ask is whether or not it is possible to increase your IQ or if your level of intelligence is a fixed and permanent quality?
Can You Increase Your IQ?
The answer to this question can depend on a number of different things, including:
- Who you ask
- How you define improvement
- How you measure intelligence
For example, does improving a person’s ability to utilize their existing abilities (such as teaching them new reading comprehension skills) really increase the individual’s intelligence, or is it simply helping them make better use of what they already have.
Traditional conceptions of IQ suggest that it is a fixed and static quality. More recent ideas suggest that there are likely multiple types of intelligence and that intelligence can change over the course of a person’s life.
In an article for Live Science, Lauren Cox asked five experts to give their opinion on whether it is possible to increase your IQ. Dr. Stephen Ceci, professor of psychology at Cornell University, suggested that IQ improvement is indeed a possibility.
“If you put it all together, and the evidence is quite compelling, that life experiences and school-related experiences change both the brain and IQ. This is true of adults and children,” he explained in the article.
Fluid vs Crystallized Intelligence
Psychologists have long suggested that intelligence comes in two basic types:
- Crystallized intelligence is the knowledge and wisdom that grows as you age, while fluid intelligence involves your ability to reason and think abstractly.
- Fluid intelligence is believed to peak sometime in young adulthood, and it is exactly the kind of intelligence that IQ tests strive to measure.
For many years, experts believed that while crystallized intelligence could be improved, fluid intelligence was a fairly static and fixed variable. Recent evidence has suggested otherwise.
In one study by researchers from the University of Maryland, experts found that having young adult play a concentration game could lead to improvements in fluid intelligence, making them better at reasoning, spotting connections between variables, and finding novel solutions to problems.
How is this possible? Experts believe that these types of games target what is known as working memory, a fundamental component of fluid intelligence. This type of memory is not just vital for holding information we are currently using; it also allows us to mentally manipulate this information.
IQ Varies Over Time
Experts also note that there really is no such thing as “an IQ.” Your IQ varies somewhat over time based on a number of factors, but also because of the nature of the test itself.
Even with a very reliable IQ test, your score may vary by around plus or minus 5 points every time you take the test. This suggests a 95 percent confidence level. So, imagine that you take an IQ test and get a score of 119. With a 95 percent confidence level, you can assume that your score lies somewhere between 114 and 124.
You might take the test one day and get a 114, but then get a 124 the next time you take the test. This does not really mean that your IQ score has gone up. It simply relates to the ability of the test to accurately capture level of intelligence.
The Type of Measurement Plays a Role
Your IQ can also vary depending upon the test that is being used. Not all IQ tests are the same, and each may measure slightly different things.
As a result, your results might be somewhat higher on one test and slightly lower on one test. This doesn’t mean that your intelligence increased or decreased, it simply represents differences in the testing instrument.
So What Can You Do to Increase Your IQ?
Education plays a role. Researchers have discovered that changes in how children are taught can influence changes in IQ scores.
Exploring new ways of thinking can also influence IQ score. For example, Ceci suggests that studies on London cab drivers reveal that learning how to navigate busy city streets actually leads to changes in how the brain functions.
So what steps can you take to improve your cognitive abilities and increase your IQ?
Seek Out Novel Experiences
New information and experiences challenge your brain and help you think in new ways. In the big five theory of personality, openness to experience is one important trait that helps make people who they are. People who rate high on this trait are always seeking out new things.
Take on Challenges
Stretching your skills and trying difficult things keeps your mind sharp.
Don’t Rely on Technology to Save the Day
Put down that calculator and use your mind to add up those numbers. Don’t just look up the answer to a question on Google and instead use your brainpower to solve a riddle.
Think Outside the Box
Coming up with creative solutions to problems requires many cognitive abilities, and using these skills can help keep your mind sharp.
Researchers such as Carol Dweck also suggest that your beliefs about the nature of intelligence are also important. People who believe that intelligence is a fixed trait are less likely to try to change and may give up in the face of a challenge. Those who hold a growth mindset, or believe that intelligence can be changed through hard work and perseverance, are more likely to try to improve themselves.
Kendra Cherry, MS.Ed., is an author, educator, and founder of Explore Psychology, an online psychology resource. She is a health writer and editor specializing in psychology, mental health, and wellness. She also writes for Verywell Mind and is the author of the Everything Psychology book (Adams Media).
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