Have you ever met someone who seems both brilliant and clueless? You know the type. People like this can spout off explanations of complex scientific theories, but when it comes to something simple, they're stumped. There's no question these people are intelligent, but are they smart?
Is intelligence just about "smarts" or does it involve using information to understand and reason, and then apply it to other situations? Despite their brainpower, scientists have yet to agree on a precise definition of human intelligence.
Intelligence or mental aptitude is measured by the IQ (Intelligence Quotient) test. Although the test, developed more than a century ago, is the most recognized tool for predicting academic and professional success, its value is often questioned. Theories about intelligence abound from the notion that people have multiple intelligences to the idea of general intelligence, which argues each person is born with a mental aptitude over which they have little control.
Certainly, as humans we are anxious to control what goes on in our brains. We want to get smart, be smart and stay smart. From doing crossword puzzles and eating fish to building brain cells by holding our breath underwater, people are constantly searching for ways to up their intelligence; and everyone from scientists to snake oil salesmen are happy to oblige.
When it comes to boosting brainpower, today's medicine may be tomorrow's myth. But if there's one thing that everyone seems to agree on it's that exercising the brain is as important as exercising the body.
10. Smart Foods Improve Intelligence
For years, we've been told what to eat and what not to eat to improve our mental capacity. While a healthy diet of vitamin-rich foods is certainly sensible, popping fish oil pills and blueberries is probably not going to help you find your keys or finish The New York Times crossword puzzle.
So what's really going on? Quite simply, the foods that experts claim are good for the brain are also good for the heart, and when the heart is healthy, it supplies the brain with a constant supply of oxygen, resulting in peak performance. On the other hand, if the oxygen supply to the brain is impaired because blood vessels are clogged, then cognitive performance can be hindered [source: Flora].
So start your day with breakfast, but not sugary cereal and coffee, which only provide a fleeting burst of energy. Enjoy a heart-healthy meal. Not only will you be satisfied throughout the morning, it may help you focus on where you left your keys and finish that crossword puzzle.
9. Crossword Puzzles Make You Smarter
And speaking of crossword puzzles, you see them everywhere -- in waiting rooms, in the checkout line at the grocery store, in the daily paper. You know the hype: Crossword puzzles, Sudoku and word games are the key to keeping old minds sharp.
For years, people have believed that doing crossword puzzles was a way to challenge and improve their intelligence, as well as a way to help maintain it. The truth is avid puzzlers aren't becoming more intelligent, they're actually training their brains. In other words, the players are becoming more skilled at solving the crosswords, but not necessarily becoming smarter. Additionally, problem-solving ability doesn't translate from one skill to another, so solving Sudoku puzzles probably won't help you remember names. Unless you enjoy the challenge of brain training games, don't feel bad if you can't think of an 11-letter word for smart. There are plenty of other ways to exercise your brain [source: ScienceDaily].
And while we're on the topic of games, video and computer games have often been described as "mindless" activities. While it may be better to actually get out and play a game of basketball than to sit and play a video game, recent studies have shown that gaming can actually improve everyday skills, including navigating, driving, and improving decision and reaction times [source: ScienceDaily]. Furthermore, adept gamers also seem to make good laparoscopic surgeons, assuming they also have the intelligence to go along with their hand-eye coordination [source: ScienceDaily].
8. Listening to Classical Music Raises IQ
In 1993, when researchers discovered the cognitive ability of college students was improved by their listening to Mozart's 1781 sonata for two pianos in D major, it opened the door for all kinds of opportunity to improve intellect.
Hailed as the "Mozart effect," one study found that college students who listened to 10 minutes of the classical music increased their spatial intelligence scores on the IQ test by eight to nine points. From Beethoven for babies, to sonatas for SATs, the possibilities for improving intelligence by listening to classical music were endless. Although the effect lasted just 10 to 15 minutes, the implications were enough to convince the Governor of Georgia, Zell Miller, to propose providing a classical music CD to every newborn in the state.
Naturally, scientists in Vienna, Austria, ever-so proud of their national hero, set out to replicate the findings. They studied every bit of research on the subject, but alas found no evidence to support the theory that spatial intellect improved simply by listening to Mozart [source: ScienceDaily].
Why did many smart people believe in the Mozart effect? As a society, we are anxious to find a quick and easy way to improve intelligence, and this finding based on a handful of students in an uncontrolled situation fit the bill. Today, we know that the participants most likely improved their scores because it aroused something in their brains and they simply found the music pleasing [source: Jones].
7. Older Siblings Are Smarter
In addition to intelligence, what do many Nobel Prize winners, classical music composers and psychologists have in common? Many of them are firstborn children. Since the mid-1800s, scientists have tried to determine the role of birth order in intelligence. In 1874, results of a study on men in the science field revealed almost 50 percent were firstborn children. Foolishly, the study did not look at the females in the family. Even if a boy had older siblings who were girls, he was counted as the firstborn.
Despite the poor study, some of the explanations for higher IQs among firstborns have been validated today. Among them are the following:
- Firstborns benefit from greater financial resources for education.
- Firstborns benefit from better nutrition and attention.
- Firstborns are treated as companions by their parents and often given more responsibility.
Further studies have shown that higher IQ does not always equal greater achievement. Among scientists, the likelihood of someone with an IQ of 130 winning a Nobel Prize is equal to that of someone with an IQ of 180. Additionally, although many firstborns have been successful in the science field, their siblings have been successful in other areas such as leadership and creativity [source: Esping].
6. Subsequent Generations Are Getting Smarter
According to the Flynn Effect, there is a measurable increase in IQ test scores from generation to generation. This may not be surprising, especially if you are one of those "know-it-all" teens who thinks everything your parents do or say is "stupid." Yet, if the data collected from countries around the world shows that IQ scores are improving, why aren't our IQ test scores off the charts?
First, a lesson in intelligence. It is believed that humans have two primary types of intelligence: fluid and crystallized. Fluid intelligence is the ability to reason and solve problems, independent of education; and crystallized intelligence is based on experience and learning. IQ tests are designed to distinguish between the two and measure intelligence.
To prevent IQ tests from becoming obsolete due to the constant improvement in scores, the tests are made more difficult every 15 to 20 years. The average IQ score remains 100 each time the test undergoes an adjustment, which is why today's scores are in line with our ancestors'.
But, are subsequent generations truly becoming more intelligent or are other factors influencing the IQ scores? Among the possible reasons for the global increase in IQ scores are:
- Improved education and more time spent in formal education
- Improved ability to work on completing tests within specific time limits
- Improved nutrition, leading to healthier brains
This explains why children test smarter sooner, but what happens to IQ later in life?
5. President George W. Bush Has a Below-average IQ
According to a 2001 report released by the "prestigious" Lovenstein Institute of Scranton, Pa., President George W. Bush has the lowest IQ of any president in the past 50 years. His below-average score of 91 is half that of the smartest president, Bill Clinton, and only seven points below his father George H.W. Bush, who scored a 98.
The report also revealed that the six Republican presidents who served during the 50-year period had an average IQ of 115, and the average IQ of the six Democratic presidents was 156. While the presidents did not sit for an IQ test, the scores were based on the their use of vocabulary and scholarly achievements, the report said.
Although many people agree President Bush was not the most brilliant president in the past 50 years, his low IQ score and the entire Lovenstein report was a hoax. The truth is, the IQs of most people are not public information and are often unknown to the individual. In trying to determine the IQ of a president, researchers rely on historiometric methods.
Following up on the false report, researchers took a scientific look at the 43rd president and placed his IQ between 111 and 138. They estimate George W. Bush probably falls in the top 10 percent in terms of intelligence, qualifying him for the job of president. However, among the population of past presidents it's likely that he falls closer to the bottom of the scale [source: Simonton].
4. Most People Use Only 10 Percent of Their Brain
It's one of those things that people state with conviction, "Humans use only 10 percent of their brain." Since it sounds vaguely familiar, you don't question this factoid and may even announce it yourself when the situation presents itself. Instead of appearing smart, you would look silly, because the truth is humans use 100 percent of their brain, but not all at the same time. Imagine what could be accomplished if we used 100 percent of this mysterious organ 100 percent of the time.
The brain has a huge job, and it's not just thinking and creating. It's also responsible for all of our motor functions, including movement, balance and breathing. It controls our conscious and unconscious activities and is active 24/7. Without us even being aware, our brains are constantly absorbing, processing, storing and recalling information thanks to the millions of neurons that communicate with each other non-stop.
Until a piece of our hard drive is damaged due to an injury, illness or a stroke, it's difficult to fathom the complexity of the brain. Here are some of the amazing things scientists have discovered about the brain:
- Neurons that perform similar functions are clustered.
- Several of the brain's pathways perform similar functions and act as backup in case one fails.
- When a young person's brain is damaged, it's possible for other parts of their brain to take over some of the tasks of the damaged areas.
Come to think of it, while we know many fascinating things about the brain, it's probably only 10 percent of what is left to discover.
3. Improve IQ Scores by Holding Your Breath Underwater
If you saw a book entitled, "The Einstein Factor -- A Proven New Method for Increasing Your Intelligence" you may be tempted to give it a try. After all, the back cover of the book proclaims that Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci were not talented because of genetics, but due to mental conditioning. By using the methods described in the book, the author Win Wenger, Ph.D. will help you improve brainpower, enhance memory and creativity, and cultivate specific talents. Sounds amazing, so what's the catch?
Wenger suggests two methods, one is a complex technique based on Image Streaming and the other involves holding your breath underwater. In order to achieve success with the second technique, over a three-week period, participants must accumulate 20 hours of holding their breath underwater. The reward is a 10-point gain in IQ, improved awareness and attention span, and greater success at winning arguments.
If this technique sounds fishy, before you reject the bait, consider the following explanation for why it may work. Underwater swimming, not just putting your face in the water, increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood. Because you are holding your breath, a warning signal is sent to your body announcing that your oxygen supply is being cut off. The carotid arteries carrying blood to your head dilate, delivering your brain and other major organs rich, oxygenated blood [source: Wenger].
Still not hooked? Remember, exercise is good for the body and the brain, so taking up swimming can't hurt.
2. Watching TV Is Bad for You
Television has been called everything from the boob-tube to the idiot box. There are weeks dedicated to not watching it and yet the average American spends nine years of a 65-year-old life watching TV [source: Herr]. The statistics are daunting when you consider the violence and commercialism that accompanies many shows. No wonder we were told TV is bad for us, and not just the part about sitting too close.
True, since TV became a popular household appliance, it has seen its share of awful and truly predictable programming. While program choices have increased they have also improved. In fact, today's television can even be considered intellectually stimulating.
Compared to television of 30 years ago, many of today's dramas are more intellectually demanding, requiring viewers to focus on the plot and storyline, make inferences, fill in information and track shifting social relationships. It's called the "Sleeper Curve" and rather than dumbing down our society, it forces us to use our brains.
The linear shows of the 1970s that we once found riveting are considered slow-moving and boring by today's standards, when a typical drama contains multiple story threads involving as many as 20 recurring characters. Viewers are rising to the challenge of more complex dramas with dialogue that doesn't state the obvious, and characters who use terms viewers many not completely understand [source: Johnson].
Before you discount the value of today's television, tune into TV Land and catch an episode of "Gilligan's Island" or "Charlie's Angels." You may change your mind.
1. Intelligence Declines with Age
Admittedly, as we age, our brains, like the rest of our bodies, begin to change. They're not as agile, they move a little slower and may not respond as quickly. Until the age of about 25, most of us cruise along constantly improving our problem-solving skills and honing our memory. We peak at about age 28, and then comes the slide. With each passing decade, performance on standardized reasoning tests declines [source: Begley].
For years, people have accepted the dismal fact that our brains slow down with age. They tuck that information in the back of their mind and hope they will be the exception. Recent studies have shown however, that while older people may lack the cognitive skills they had in their younger days, they have something that can't be measured on any standardized test: wisdom.
Wisdom, expertise and practical knowledge based on years of experience are valuable assets that are often overlooked. In the work place, younger people may perform with greater speed and more agility, but the older generation can see the big picture and trends based on experience.
Although the long-term memory of older adults appears to store and use information better than short-term memory, that's no reason to surrender to time. Like the body, the mind benefits from activity. Keep learning, continue practicing and share your wisdom.
Lots More Information
- Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Memory
- Disproved Theories About Human Intelligence
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