April 18, 2012

Can you raise your IQ thru mental exercise?

From the New York Times Magazine:
Can You Make Yourself Smarter? 
By Dan Hurley
Since the first reliable intelligence test was created just over a hundred years ago, researchers have searched for a way to increase scores meaningfully, with little success. The track record was so dismal that by 2002, when Jaeggi and her research partner (and now her husband), Martin Buschkuehl, came across a study claiming to have done so, they simply didn’t believe it. 
The study, by a Swedish neuroscientist named Torkel Klingberg, involved just 14 children, all with A.D.H.D. Half participated in computerized tasks designed to strengthen their working memory, while the other half played less challenging computer games. After just five weeks, Klingberg found that those who played the working-memory games fidgeted less and moved about less. More remarkable, they also scored higher on one of the single best measures of fluid intelligence, the Raven’s Progressive Matrices. Improvement in working memory, in other words, transferred to improvement on a task the children weren’t training for. 
Even if the sample was small, the results were provocative (three years later Klingberg replicated most of the results in a group of 50 children), because matrices are considered the gold standard of fluid-intelligence tests. Anyone who has taken an intelligence test has seen matrices like those used in the Raven’s: three rows, with three graphic items in each row, made up of squares, circles, dots or the like. Do the squares get larger as they move from left to right? Do the circles inside the squares fill in, changing from white to gray to black, as they go downward? One of the nine items is missing from the matrix, and the challenge is to find the underlying patterns — up, down and across — from six possible choices. Initially the solutions are readily apparent to most people, but they get progressively harder to discern. By the end of the test, most test takers are baffled. 
If measuring intelligence through matrices seems arbitrary, consider how central pattern recognition is to success in life. If you’re going to find buried treasure in baseball statistics to give your team an edge by signing players unappreciated by others, you’d better be good at matrices. If you want to exploit cycles in the stock market, or find a legal precedent in 10 cases, or for that matter, if you need to suss out a woolly mammoth’s nature to trap, kill and eat it — you’re essentially using the same cognitive skills tested by matrices.

I tend to look at this from the opposite perspective: Can you let your intelligence deteriorate? Yes, probably, I would imagine. 

It's a little like the perennial question debated by stat nerds of whether or not athletes enjoy hot streaks. They certainly suffer cold streaks when they are marginally injured, suffering from illness, worried that their wives will divorce them, angry at their teammates, defended by outstanding players, fallen into bad mechanics, etc. Perhaps hot streaks are just the absence of all cold streaks?

Anyway, I can well imagine that not exercising your brain could lead to declines in intelligence. 

But, then, the question becomes what is the best brain exercise for you individually. Is it one of these abstract games that are kind of like a Ravens Matrices IQ test? Or maybe, say, reading, oh, I don't know, this blog is good exercise for your brain. Plus, it's fun and informative.

As they say at the end of scientific papers, more research is needed!

P.S. Think about the different kinds of sports: the best training for long distance runners is long distance running. Same for swimming. On the other hand, sprinters don't need to sprint 20 hours per week, but they do need to lift weights. The best training for soccer as a youth is not playing in an 11-on-11 soccer game (the way American soccer kids are taught), but playing one-on-one soccer exercises to get in hundreds of touches of the ball per day (the Dutch method). On the other hand, playing basketball is pretty good training for being a point guard, but not for perfecting the skyhook.

So, a priori, I can't guess. I suspect that general intelligence might be kind of like playing point guard, and the most important thing is to turn off the TV and get out there and do it. But maybe there are good exercises for working memory, just like weight training can be highly useful for different sports. But it also helps to craft a weightlifting plan to the sport. For example, when Michael Jordan switched from baseball back to basketball in the spring of 1995, his weightlifting regimen had been crafted to make him "baseball strong" and he looked kind of awkward on the court. Then, his trainer switched him back to basketball strong lifting routines and he was pretty awesome again the next season.


Anonymous said...

According to Alissa Rosenbaum (Ayn Rand) in Ayn Rand Answers, you can raise your IQ up to 50 points by being "rational." The book omits her research and cites, though.

Leonard said...

I would guess that IQ:problem-solving is analogous strength::weightlifting :

1) both are, in the bigger picture, genetically dominated, but within a narrow range of possibilities that is innate, environment is highly influential.
2) people have varying "untrained" levels innately
3) people respond differently to training; some put on IQ/muscle quickly, others not as fast
4) there is an upper limit to training, which you approach asymptotically
5) you can get moderate to good development without focused training, just by being active, and many people do this

This would explain the Flynn effect: modernity has increasingly turned into a IQ-intense training ground.

It also explains why, like all previous attempts, they won't find much or any lingering long-term effect out of training. Even if you put on 20 pounds of muscle lifting, after you stop, your body returns to what it is programmed to do given your activity level.

gwern said...

Article's a bit incomplete; see http://www.gwern.net/DNB%20FAQ#criticism

jody said...

steve have you seen this yet?

"Best evidence yet that a single gene can affect IQ"


new research from paul thompson at UCLA, shows that changing a single specific gene from thymine to cytosine will raise IQ 1.3 points. so if a person gets 1 copy of this gene from each of their parents, their IQ goes up 2.6 points.

this single change increases the size of a brain by 9 cubic centimeters, finally establishing beyond a doubt the physical nature of the relationship between brain function, brain size, and genetic instructions for growing brains. atlhough there was not much doubt before, now there is undisputible evidence which shows the process all the way from inception to completion.

Anonymous said...

How much can IQ be raised is probably the better question. Likewise measuring temporary performance boosts would be worthwhile, since that tends to happen for tests. This particular study seems to me to be about overcoming ADHD/MDHD rather than any overt increase in IQ however,which is certainly valuable in its own right.

Rachelle said...

I used to assume that we were stuck with the IQ we got, but now I am not so sure. The brain seems to be more plastic than previously supposed.

For example, there is this saying that London cab drivers brains seemed to grow to accommodate navigating through the city.


Maybe demanding use makes a difference in brain structure after all. More study needed.

Now I think I will take a nap.

Teko said...

I read the research paper by Jaeggi and the quality of it is abysmal. For some reason they used different IQ tests before and after the test subjects were trained using the working memory exercise. The second IQ test was also of shorter duration.

Many other recent studies have concluded that mental exercises have no lasting effect on IQ. I doubt Jaeggi and co stumbled on one that does.

☩ said...

I always felt smarter after studying for the GREs for a week (I did this several times at wide separations), and made trivial connections / solved small problems more quickly. I /felt/ wittier. Whether I would have done better on the Ravens I don't know.

Anonymous said...

One of the difficulties posed by having a high IQ is that the further to the right you go, the harder and harder it is to find people who are able to see a pattern you have found that requires an IQ near the limit of your own intelligence to detect. Depending on what the pattern is, they'll either question your sanity or merely be unpersuaded.

Also, if you are one of those people who enjoys seeking out those ideas where a very few people are right but most are wrong (such as HBD) in part because your intellect demands the truth, you end up being seen as eccentric because what you know is truth is what everyone else "knows" as false.

One thing I've noticed about IQ tests also is that timed tests perhaps overrates quick thinkers and underrates the slower, more thorough, methodical geniuses who reflexively check their work. I saw this on a quiz show once, where a physics guy (may have been PhD) was up against a radio host, I think it was. The radio host got every question he knew right because he was very quick, but when it came to the harder questions the physics was able to answer most of the questions.

There are quite a few things in life where being the guy who takes his time but can tackle the really hard problems pays off. I guess if you are this way and want to do well at IQ tests, it pays to teach yourself to scan the test for easy problems, and then go back and do the next easiest ones and so on. There is something inside me that gets pissed off at the extra overhead that this process imposes though, especially when you know you can probably answer all the questions given enough time.

Aaron B. said...

When I was tested for ADD, one thing the doctor did was had me repeat a list of three things (chair, telephone, and pencil, as I remember quite clearly now), and then asked me unrelated questions about other things for a couple minutes, and then asked me to repeat back those three items again. I couldn't remember the second one. I can remember every line from numerous movies, but I can't remember a phone number long enough to read it from the phone book and punch it into the phone.

That kind of flaky short-term memory would obviously be a handicap in testing. Even multiple-choice questions are going to be harder if you can't remember what answer A was by the time you get to answer "E: None of the above." So I'd say that if they did exercises to improve their short-term memory (or learn to avoid distraction), it probably didn't raise their IQ so much as allow them to get scores that better represented their actual reasoning ability.

Harry Baldwin said...

Since political correctness makes you stupid, it follows that reading iSteve raises your IQ.

Chris said...

According to Alissa Rosenbaum (Ayn Rand) in Ayn Rand Answers, you can raise your IQ up to 50 points by being "rational." The book omits her research and cites, though.

Actually, that's quite interesting as it is basically the same as Pinker's explanation for the Flynn Effect.

V said...

I've been doing Dual N-Back (the exercise Jaeggi discussed) on and off for a while, and know some people who have been doing it for years. You can get it for your computer at http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/ or find programs that do it for your smartphone.

It's tough, boring, and can get arbitrarily hard. If you can hold 5 pairs in your head, well, how about 6? And then once you master 6, how about 7?

The impression I get is that it's good exercise for people with low focus / working memory, but for people with high focus / working memory, you're better off improving another part of your brain than doubling down on that part.

You're probably better off making your kid practice DNB for 30 minutes a day than making them practice a musical instrument for 30 minutes a day. It might make them smarter / more focused, but if it doesn't and they grow up to hate DNB, no big loss, but if they grow up to hate the piano, well, maybe that was a mistake).

Anonymous said...

Similarly I've had very long arguments with my friend about whether or not baseball players can be "clutch". I argued, and got him to admit, that players could at least "choke".


Wade said...

If anyone wants to try the working memory training that Jaeggi used in her study, you can do it for free here with Brain workshop:


Paul Hoskinson contacted Jaeggi back in '08 and got a description of the working memory training task that they used. BrainWorkshop is programmed according to the same specification used in the study.

The task is called "Dual-n-back." Single-n-back has been used in neuroscience for quite some time to measure the working memory capacity of individuals. A series of letters or numbers are presented for someone to listen to at an even pace. For n = 2, the subject must answer whether the current item matches the item they heard 2-back. As they master the task at a certain level, a computer will increment the level to 3-back, etc...

For Dual-n-back, a computer presents both an auditory cue and a visual cue simultaneously. For the visual cue, a Matrix appears on the screen and one of the squares will light up at the same time that the subject hears the auditory cue. The goal is to compare both cues with the iteration n-back ago and to respond independently for visual or auditory matches.

Brainworkshop has evolved over the years to include different modes that enable you to customize the game and play it with many variations on the original game.

Try it Steve! Tell us what "n-back" level you can reach!

Disclaimer: According to the original study, there isn't a correlation between the "n-back" level reached and a person's IQ score. There was, however, a dose-dependent correlation between the time spent training and IQ-gained (i.e. the longer the participants trained, the more they improved their Raven's score).

Maybe if Steve Sailer practices it for a few weeks he'll be able to provide us with more insightful blog posts a day!

Dutch Boy said...

It is more likely that the childrens' test-taking ability was improved rather than their intelligence.

Steve Sailer said...

Professional golfers choke a lot in the Majors and in the Ryder Cup. With the U.S. team riding on his shoulders in the 1991 Ryder Cup, Mark Calchaveccia hit a tee shot on a par 3 that didn't come within 75 yards of making it across the lake.

Anonymous said...

It is called Dual N Back training. I started about two months ago. I use a freeware package called Brain Workshop. Some people report adding 10+ IQ points. Who knows? I use it to track the effectivness of various dietary and lifestyle interventions. (ABAB trials and see if the scores break from trend). It takes 20+ hours of training, and it is a pain in the ass.

One thing seems likely, this will not do much for the various and loathed 'gaps'. A Chinese can get *a lot* stronger by lifting weights the right way. However he will never outlift an Icelander who has also done the same training. Likewise, the Icelander will never beat the braintrained Chinaman in visuospatial tasks, even if he does Dual N Back till the cows come home. My guess anyway.

-Hank The Plant

Anonymous said...

Likewise, the Icelander will never beat the braintrained Chinaman in visuospatial tasks, even if he does Dual N Back till the cows come home.

I thought Nordics possessed a worldwide (or at least in comparison to non-Europeans) edge when it came to the visuospatial.

Luke Lea said...

They say the key to doing well on the SAT verbal is reading lots of books. I was an outdoor kid so hardly read at all -- not that there were many good books around.

Later I asked my Mother, how in hell am I supposed to know these vocabulary words? I've neither seen nor heard them in my life. ["abate" was one I remember]

Luke Lea said...

In old age the challenge is to learn new stuff faster than you forget the old stuff. I took Sussman's online course on quantum entanglement a couple of years ago. It helped -- for a while.

Mr Lomez said...

It's a little like the perennial question debated by stat nerds of whether or not athletes enjoy hot streaks...Perhaps hot streaks are just the absence of all cold streaks?

Hot streaks exist. All athletes have a context neutral ability, a kind of mean performance level. They will underperform for reasons stated, and probably perform better when the opposite of those reasons are true.

But there are also more complex, harder to quantify factors that can influence a player's performance over a given time period. You'll often here athletes talk about being "in the zone." Michael Jordan has described games in which the hoop looks two or three times as large as it actually is. Baseball players, when they're "hot," will contend that the ball seems to be traveling slower than normal and that they can almost predict what kind of pitch will be thrown. In certain players' cases, this being "in the zone," if you believe them, can last over several games.

To hear athlete's talk about it, these hot streaks have an almost mystical quality, lots of good cosmic vibes, etc. But probably what's really happening is that the sub-conscious is taking over. You'll often hear coach's say, "Don't think, just do."

As a corollary, elite athletes tend to be dumb, and for good reason. The less their analytical front brain gets in the way of their intuitive back brain, the better.

Anonymous said...

The key take-away with IQ training is that it can only do so much. I suspect it's realistically good for four or five, not ten, points: further, it affects different aspects of the IQ total package differently. Genetics is 90% plus.

Whiskey said...

Stay off the first person shooters, if you MUST play video games play Chess and Backgammon, which require strategic visual thinking moves ahead. They're also fun. Stay away from rap/pop music and listen to classical and jazz.

Tha'ts probably good for marginal improvement, but hey margins are the name of the game. Just being marginally better at anything tends to make life a lot nicer.

Anonymous said...

In 2011 Jaeggi seems to have published a paper that found no difference between kids who did n-back and those that didn't on IQ. However, the paper went on to claim that n-back worked after all, since the kids whose IQ improved the most also improved on n-back the most (the obvious counter being that these were just the kids whose brains or intellects were developing fastest on their own). Here's a thread discussing it:


Anonymous said...

The "zone" exists. There were days when I played baseball when the ball looked as big as a basketball and all I had to do was swing and good things happened.

There were other days when it looked like a children's aspirin and I walked back to the dugout, wondering where the good times went.

Hail said...

NY Times wrote:
"consider how central pattern recognition is to success in life"

Haha -- Just don't speak up about patterns, or you'll get fired by National Review, etc.

Anonymous said...

Why waste time with stupid games? Pick up a copy of the Feynman Lectures and try to understand what he's saying. If anything can make you smarter, trying to understand the greatest inventions of the human mind will do it.

Anonymous said...

best way to raise iq?

write a how-to book on 'making sure that you're born to high iq parents.'

even if it won't raise iq, you will raise a lot of money from dumb book buyers.

Anonymous said...

even people without legs can learn to movr aroud.

and even blind people can learn to do stuff.

so, if we can't turn dummies into smarties, we can try to formulate a smart kind of dumb. being dumb in a smart way beats being dumb in a dumb way.

example: if you're dumb, shut up and do as you're told by smart people.
it sure beats following dumb people.

otoh, that's what libs tell us, so forget it.

Default User said...

If you do not want to download software, you can try a version of Dual-N-Back online at:

@Aaron B.
I suspect that any improvements under N-Back are due to building attentional strength and working memory. Both are vital for IQ style tests. Indeed both are vital for any complex reasoning (keeping and shuffling the various parts in your head).

I have not Dual-N-backed for a while, but I only ever managed to get to 4 back.

Anyone else want to share scores?

Anonymous said...

If SATs are proxies for IQ tests and SATs can be gamed with prepping then it follows that IQ is not written in stone.

TC said...

My first comment on this blog. Several points I want to make.

1. I've never seen anyone wired differently and I met some (and worked with a few of) fields medalists, nobel, turing, fulkerson, goedel, nevalinna - prize winners. They are not wired differently. They are just normal people with a lot of motivation for certain math or some related fields. Math itself is just a puzzle, a collection of techniques and proved theorems and conjectures, and the set of techniques is actually very small. (see http://www.tricki.org/tricki/map)

2. There is no reason that I see why getting better at math isn't similar to getting better at lifting heavy weights. Also, after you trained for lifting heavy weights, if you stop training you lose some strength but you'll still remain much stronger than untrained. As you think more you stimulate your brain growth and as you work out, you stimulate your muscles growth. As with physical exercised, training some mental exercises don't translate fully to other exercises. (same with strength training: an athlete may bench 2x his body weight but will not be able to do the maltese on rings. However, he will probably require a lot less maltese specific training than an untrained athlete)

3. The main problem that I see is that most people don't want to learn. Laziness is actually a normal evolutionary trait and fights against curiosity. As time goes, we are less curious and laziness prevails. Moreover, some tasks require thinking in the beginning but after we get skilled, it requires a lot less thinking, and less exercise from the brain. As an example, a programmer will need to figure out a lot of things when he learns the skill for the first time. In fact it requires years to get good, but the actual programming jobs could be pretty boring and may require very little conceptual development. So, less thinking is required. I noticed with a lot of people that as they get older they just don't want to learn new stuff and their IQ decreases. No so with some faculty who are always exercising their brain. You become your job. If your job doesn't require thinking, you become more stupid. The only way around it is via new hobbies, puzzles, reading, etc.

slumber_j said...

I've been in the zone to an extraordinary degree only once, but I remember it vividly. As a solidly middling Little League player in the mid-1970s, one day I remarked to my coach during pre-game drills that everything seemed to be moving incredibly slowly. I think he thought I was being weird. Then I just killed everything at the plate, against the most famously dominant pitcher in our league...because his fastball seemed to be moving incredibly slowly.

I'm convinced to this day that something really unusual (for me) was happening in my brain. Mightn't it be the case that really good athletes have whatever that was a lot more often?

Foreign expert said...

Strangely, and counter to the practice makes perfect theory, I scored 800 on the GRE verbal section after living eight years in a non-English speaking country.

Catperson said...

I don't think intelligence can be improved through mental exercise anymore than height can be improved through physical exercise. You can make yourself look smarter by learning to focus on tests and getting an education just like you can make yourself look taller by knowing how to stand and wearing the right shoes, but none of these things improve true intelligence or height.

The did a study where people practiced repeating digits from memory. At first people could only repeat 7 digits but with extensive training, some managed to repeat 100 digits. The problem was when they moved from repeating digits to repeating letters, they were back down to 7. So while it's possible to narrowly improve specific mental abilities, there is no improvement in the mental ability to adapt to new problems. You can practice checkers until you're blue in the face, but it won't improve your ability to play chess, let alone your ability to do crosswords.

And no the Flynn Effect is not caused by modern culture, rational thinking or any other psychological explanation. As Richard Lynn explained long ago, the Flynn Effect is caused by better nutrition and virtually nothing else. Just as people are getting taller, brains are getting larger and more complex.

Anonymous said...

What about transcranial direct stimulation? It's been shown to significantly speed up learning. Air Force researchers cut the time required to train drone pilots in half by delivering a mild electrical current (two milliamperes of direct current for 30 minutes) to pilot's brains during training sessions on video simulators. It may be the new Adderrall -- without, apparently, the side effects. There are commercial products starting to be available at low prices ($99).


JayMan said...

My thoughts:

1. The biggest question of all is are these subjects actually improving their fluid reasoning or are they improving their ability to do tests of fluid reasoning? Fluid-g IQ tests are heavily affected by practice, in such that if you practice for the test or are more familiar with it, the test loses its g-loading. It's hardly inconceivable that the mental exercises that these children were doing improved their skills (a very important word to use) with puzzle-type tests, like the Raven's.

2. This is directly related to the Flynn effect. It is suspected that a source of the Flynn effect is the above process: increasing familiarity with abstract puzzles. This leads to improved scores without necessarily having improved real-world performance (in other words, test takers aren't actually smarter). Tests that measure crystallized g, like the vocabulary section of the WISC or the SAT, seem to be most resistant to the Flynn effect, which is exactly counter to what one might expect. But as Half Sigma once discussed, this might be because measures of crystallized g place everyone taking the test on a more level playing field, since in the case of the SAT, everyone spends so long preparing for the test (i.e., going to school).

3. The above point is why I suspect, counter to Richard Lynn's thought, that the Flynn effect isn't actually due to better nutrition. Phenotypical intelligence probably hasn't increased, which it would have if the secular increase in test scores actually corresponded to real increases in ability, which I suspect it doesn't.

Pat Boyle said...

Actually I bought a machine that increases my IQ. I just used it. I'm smarter now than I was just an hour ago.

It is of course a Cappuccino machine.

The LaGuardia commission studied the effect of various drugs on IQ. A lot of dope smoking jazz musicians think they play better when they are loaded. The commission showed that MJ decreased your critical faculties so that you only thought you were better when high. That was true also of the opiates. Drugs make you dumb - except for caffeine.

So before you take the SAT drop by Starbucks.

Anonymous said...

Sure, some sports players are good in clutch situations. But doing so requires extra concentration, which zaps your (mental) energy, which is why you can't play like that on every point. A good clutch player has the ability to play significantly better than their average on the critical points.

Essentially, one might define good clutch play as a greater variance than average in the direction of positive performance, when called upon.

IQ probably plays somewhat into this. Firstly, in recognizing which points are critical. And secondly, in reserving some behavior to only be pulled out in these critical points - e.g. pitching an uncommon pitch, serving to the forehand, etc.

gwern said...

Catperson: the digit span experiments showing lack of transfer are one of the classic experiments, and one of the ones Jaeggi was alluding to when she said transfer was pretty much never observed. It's safe to say that all the researchers involved are aware of it to some degree.

Anonymous said...

What about Placebo effect:

"Would a dumb person being praised by one and all that he/she is a Genius: May actually make him/her a Genius"

NOTA said...


That's not quite right. Think in terms of correlation--all else being equal, someone with a higher SAT probably has a higher IQ, because the scores are somewhat correlated. And yet, if some external thing helps your SAT score, that may well be independent of your IQ score.

Think of a simple example: there is a strong correlation between height and how good a basketball player you are. All else being equal, if I tell you Joe is a better basketball player than Jack, you should guess that Joe is probably taller that Jack. And yet, practice makes you a better basketball player, so maybe after Jack spends a couple years really working hard on his game, he will be a better player than Joe.

Similarly, even if IQ is absolutely impossible to change, and SAT scores are correlated with IQ, it's possible to raise someone's SAT score via practice.

NOTA said...


Are you asserting some claim about reality that can be tested, or are you stating your definition of intelligence? If you define intelligence as that part of your mental abilities which can't be improved by practice (as opposed to knowledge or skills, which can be), then you're just talking about definitions--in that case, anything that could be improved with training would just be moved out of the "intelligence" category and into the "skills" category.

Anonymous said...

Ditto Catperson. Isn't g supposed to be that which is distinct from training - i.e. "raw" mental ability?

Anonymous said...

What about Placebo effect:

"A Dumb person being called a Genius by one and all all the time, might as well make him/her a Genius"

MH said...

Speaking of working memory-IQ I heard about this video.

Anonymous said...

The European-derived peoples excel in spatio-visual intelligence.

Anonymous said...

I can certainly see that it would be possible to prep for any IQ test that involves the use of uncommon words. Studying the dictionary (or even just looking up words as you read - Kindles make this easy) allows a person to flesh out their vocabulary. The implications of this are that if they make an error on the test it won't be because they didn't comprehend the meaning of a word (though in multiple choice the ever useful strategy of deducing the correct answer by a process of elimination will still allow a correct answer most of the time). Thus in IQ tests with uncommon words (such as the SAT), it will be possible to increase your IQ score.

Similarly, I wonder how many people here have read through a whole set of encyclopedias as a child because they were bored? I did (both a children's set, and a twenty year old adult's set from the 1970s I think it was). It's certainly one of the best ways to develop an encyclopedic knowledge - to actually sit down and read a set of encyclopedias. If you have a good memory, the bits you find interesting will stick and prove useful. And the rest will still provide a basic familiarity that gives you a head start when you encounter the material again - some sort of framework to slot that knowledge into.

Filling your brain with concepts that are useful, from the very best thinkers in history and about the most important events (which have been culled from the set of everything including useless trivia that could theoretically be included in an encyclopedia) is a great way to make yourself smarter.

Anonymous said...

The brain may be limited in terms of memory. A human being is unquestionably limited in terms of the total amount of time they can spend absorbing information and the quality of that information. Thus, it surely makes sense that the quality of the information you put into it has an impact on your intellect.

Consider a child that has been raised on Teletubbies, "In the Night Garden...", and other garbage entertainment on TV (e.g. rap videos). Compare that to a child who is taught to read as soon as they are able, watches TV shows like Tennessee Tuxedo, and at some point decides to read a set of encyclopedias. The latter is going to have a wealth of scientific concepts and knowledge from which they can make valid inferences (which they probably recognize as similar to stuff they have read). The former has to come up with this stuff on their own, from first principles. Everything scientific, mathematical, logical and literate is foreign to them.

Obviously there is a genetic limit, but familiarity is a big help to getting there, and there is no substitute for an involved parent who gives a shit. e.g. Mozart surely had great genetic stock, but put him in a crack house to be raised and there's no way he's composing his first sonata by age 4, or his first opera by age 12.

Obviously, genetic desire to absorb such information is also a factor. You could put a children's encyclopedia set in the bedrooms of 100 children. How many will actually bother to read them?

To even get them to that point requires them to be fluent readers who enjoy or are addicted to reading. Again, to do the job right you need an involved parent who carefully selects reading material that is just outside their current ability and is also addictive - well written stories with gripping stories.

Perhaps part of the reason for the Flynn effect is the greater quality of reading material that abounds. People don't bother to read the crap so much any more. Even video stores seem to be selecting content by IMDB rating. Back 6 years ago, one had to search through every different video store in a city to find a particular highly rated classic. Now they are much more likely to be in your local video store, because video store execs have realized that people select good movies based on reviews from the internet. They also realize that even if they just select movies at random, the more enjoyable the experience is the more likely it is that they will come back. Stock the shelves with classics and they will select great movies by default.

The sort of things that are going to affect IQ that I mention (reading encyclopedias, reading quality material in general, developing fluency in reading early in life) - are not things that can easily be replicated with testing budgets typical of social scientists. It's very expensive and if you want to go the epidemiological route, it will be hard to divorce the environment from genetic factors, because only smart parents are going to do this sort of thing.

Catperson said...

2. This is directly related to the Flynn effect. It is suspected that a source of the Flynn effect is the above process: increasing familiarity with abstract puzzles. This leads to improved scores without necessarily having improved real-world performance (in other words, test takers aren't actually smarter).

There are several reasons to reject your theory:

(1) as Richard Lynn has shown, the full flynn effect shows up on toddler and even infant development tests.  Since this is too young an age for tests to measure familiarity with abstract puzzles, the Flynn Effect must be explained by variables that operate by about the time a person is born (i.e. nutrition)

(2) abstract puzzle solving measures FLUID ability.  By definition people can not be familiar with these tests, otherwise they'd be measures of CRYSTALIZED skill. Psychologists make every effort to hide these tests from the public because the moment you see them, they are no long measures of fluid ability which is defined as NOVEL problem solving.  Now people may have practice doing SIMILAR problems, but the practice on one abstract puzzle does not translate to other  abstract problems, otherwise it would be trivially easy to raise intelligence with real-world consequences.

(3) the most obvious place where people learn abstract skills is in school, however if increased levels of schooling were causing the flynn effect, we would expect it to be most pronounced on academic tests like the SAT, but as you admit, in the next section, it's just the opposite:

Tests that measure crystallized g, like the vocabulary section of the WISC or the SAT, seem to be most resistant to the Flynn effect, which is exactly counter to what one might expect. But as Half Sigma once discussed, this might be because measures of crystallized g place everyone taking the test on a more level playing field, since in the case of the SAT, everyone spends so long preparing for the test (i.e., going to school).

There are 2 explanations for the resistance of the SAT to the Flynn Effect:

(1) in the past only the elite took the SAT, so this creates the false impression that past generations had better verbal and math skills than they really did.

(2) the flynn effect is caused by nutrition and academic skills are more resistant to malnutrition than abstract puzzle ability.  Richard Lynn compared identical twins where one twin got fewer nutrients in the womb than the other and was born lighter and with a smaller head. By age 15, the malnourished twin still scored lower on IQ tests, but only on abstract non-verbal puzzles. Verbal-academic skills are relatively preserved in malnourished people.

Catperson said...

Are you asserting some claim about reality that can be tested, or are you stating your definition of intelligence? If you define intelligence as that part of your mental abilities which can't be improved by practice (as opposed to knowledge or skills, which can be), then you're just talking about definitions--in that case, anything that could be improved with training would just be moved out of the "intelligence" category and into the "skills" category.

My hypothesis is falsifiable. If training at mental exercises increased someone's mental ability to adapt to a completely unrelated problem, I would concede that intelligence has been increased. But that's not what we see. People who spend 8 hours a day practicing chess not only fail to transfer that practice to even a game as similar as checkers, but even their chess improvement is confined to standard chess. If you change something even as subtle as the number of squares on the chess
board, whatever practice they had at chess goes out the window.

So mental coaching, training and stimulation can vastly improve narrow mental skills and knowledge, but it can't improve one's ability to adapt, and that's really what intelligence is all about.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

it not just matter of smart and dumb and middle.

there also matter of smumb and dumart.

smumb people have real inner smart but dumb machine that don't process right. like car with powerful motor but with many problem. or computer with powerful intel chip but cheapie other parts that don't work right.

dumart people generally dumb but have nuggets of gold so that occasion they think up remarkable stuff.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

"Can you raise your IQ thru mental exercise?"

Maybe someone told boys that their penises could be lengthened with more 'hands-on-exercise', which would explain a lot of things.

Thomas said...

Re: deteriorating intelligence and pattern recognition: some of the most significant and obvious patterns of human behavior and their correlates are actively-discouraged from being noticed, or at least commented upon, by contemporary society. Does that mean we're practicing "affirmative atrophy"of intelligence, or, in other words, is political correctness really making people stupid?

Anonymous said...


This is a very recent study on the efficacy of working memory training in improving intelligence/IQ. IMO its a very good study with internally consistent results, rectifies some criticism of Jaeggi's work and has multiple tests of intelligence used, not just the RAMP.

Paul said...

You guys are a bunch of morons. You can raise your IQ, and yes, it IS permanent. Well, as long as you always read, exercise, and do the other brain exercises. But, if you stop doing these things, of course it won't be permanent. Your IQ will actually go down. You will get dumber!