Can you increase your IQ?

Monday, April 16, 2007
Right from the very start it's obvious some people are very, very smart — but could there be a Mozart or an Einstein locked in all of us?

Have you ever been in a situation where you've wished you could miraculously boost your brain power? Some people believe that we're all born with a set level of intelligence, or IQ, and that no matter what we do, we can't change it. But is your IQ really set in stone or can you cheat a few extra points?

Our reporter Giaan Rooney is taking the challenge and putting her IQ to the test.

The test

First, here's a test for you: what does IQ stand for? If you said 'intelligence quotient' then you've definitely got some!

Next question is, can we increase our IQ? According to neuroscientist Professor Con Stough, it's possible: "People who read a lot, people who take an active interest in the world also do improve non-verbal aspects of their intelligence or their IQ."

Professor Stough studies brain activity — it's part of his research into just how intelligence works at the Brain Sciences Institute of Swinburne's University of Technology in Melbourne. He's going to find out Giaan's IQ and then see if he can help her rack it up a notch or two.

Now, so we don't have too biased a sample, Giaan is being joined by two other lab rats, Wayne and Rebekah Patterson.

Wayne's a builder who hopes that giving the old grey matter a boost might help his job prospects. Rebekah, 12, also has her reasons: "I thought the IQ test sounded fun and something to get a day off school."

This kid has obviously already got the smarts!

They will all do the test and then try three different ways to boosttheir brain power:

  • Using antioxidant supplements
  • Doing puzzles for a month
  • Endlessly re-doing IQ tests — does practice make perfect?

IQ tests are very different from quizzes and exams — there's no use staying up all night and cramming. That's because these exercises are designed to assess our raw smarts by measuring how well our brains process information.

After the first round of testing, all three agree IQ testing is not as easy at it looks or seem. It's time to find out from Professor Stough just how clever they all are. "We've got some good results for you. You all did very well, you all did above average," Professor Stough says.

But what does that mean?

Average in an IQ test is 100. Despite his doubts Wayne was in the 110-117 range. Dad's still got the upper hand because daughter Rebekah was a tiny bit behind on 105–115. While Giaan got between 115 and 120.

But can they do better? The professor has a cunning plan. Over the next month they're each going to try a different method to improve their brain:

  • Giaan's trying some pills, not yet available in Australia, which are supposed to improve her cognitive function. She'll take two a day for the next month.

    "This should increase the blood circulation to your brain as well as provide nourishment to your brain and antioxidant protection over that month," says Professor Stough.

  • For Rebekah it's a CD of IQ tests to practise. The theory here is that you'll simply learn how to do them better.

    "The more people do IQ tests the better they become at it," says the professor.

  • Poor Wayne gets homework too — puzzles to make his brain more nimble.

Three methods and three test subjects — but which one has the best chance?


One month later …

Have any of the three methods worked? Giaan, Wayne and Rebekah head back to the Swinburne Brain Sciences Institute to retake the IQ test and find out.

Now, remember, 30 days ago they all scored above average.

How did they do this time? "You all did pretty much the same as last time, so you didn't really improve your IQ scores over a month," says Professor Stough.

Why not?

Well, the professor says our IQ pretty much stays the same over a lifetime, no matter what we do to boost it. It's generally believed that IQ is hereditary — our mental development starts slowing up at age 13 and virtually stops at age 18.

But although we may not be able to change what we're born with, we can make the most of it.

"Read the newspapers, read as widely as possible, be physiologically fit, look after your brain," Professsor Stough says.


Is IQ the be-all and end-all anyway? Well, if you've got a genius level IQ you can join Mensa — an exclusive club for the super-smart, but you'll have to have an IQ over 148 to get in. But does Peter Liston who runs the Melbourne branch of the club think IQ is the key to a successful life?

"You don't need to be Einstein to have a fantastic life. The most important thing you can do to have a rewarding life is to build your self-esteem," he says. Personality, creativity and emotional intelligence all play a part in shaping your life. IQ is just one aspect of what makes you tick.

We can't all be born a Stephen Hawking or an Albert Einstein and a high IQ isn't a guarantee of happiness. The most important thing is to keep your brain active because, just like your body, it needs exercise. So use it, or you may well lose it.

Fast facts

  • Which President of the united states scored the highest IQ? John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton or George W Bush? It's John F Kennedy with 160, but at 159 Bill Clinton was only a smidgen behind. And the current President? At 120, he's still above average.

  • Is living a 21st century fast-lane life dumbing us down? Are we smarter or more stupid than our grandparents? In IQ test terms, we definitely are smarter. Research has shown that average IQ increases by three points every ten years. The reason? Each new generation is more tech savvy than the last, so we keep testing better.

  • American columnist and author Marilyn Vos Savant is recorded as having the highest IQ in the world: 228. The average IQ is just 100.

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