IQ booster pills on the way?

IQ booster pills could be on the way
Could IQ booster pills be on the way?

Many researchers are now involved in the evaluation of ways to halt the effects of ageing. In terms of IQ and cognitive ability, I have written extensively on how General Intelligence (or G) can be decomposed into two broad types of intelligence: (1) fluid intelligence (Gf), which is akin to raw processing power of the brain and our ability to solve novel problems; and (2) crystallized intelligence (Gc), which is related to our ability to absorb and use verbal and general knowledge, and is more closely related to one’s formal education.

As one might expect, the effects of ageing on cognitive ability are not good. What we know from the academic literature on the subject is that fluid IQ tends to peak in our mid 20s and starts declining (and fairly steeply) thereafter. The news is a little bit more positive in respect of crystallized intelligence. That is, Gc peaks in our 50s, and begins a gradual decline thereafter. IQ booster pills or a pill that could end this decline would be the holy grail of cognitive ability preservation for a globally ageing population.

Surmising the situation, fluid intelligence (Gf) includes several sub-components of cognitive ability including: (i) processing speed (Gs); (ii) visualization (Gv) and (iii) short-term memory / working memory (Gsm).

One of the reasons why Fluid intelligence diminishes with age is that older people will see their processing speed, visualization and working memory deteriorate.

Crystallized intelligence, on the other hand, can peak much later if older people carry on reading and learning.

IQ booster pills on the way?

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and the Gladstone Institutes had been investigating ways to stifle the effects and the role of ageing of klotho, a protein which is encoded by the gene known as KL. It had been discovered that a particular version of the gene, called KL-VS (believed to be present in 20% of human beings), promotes longevity. KL-VS had been shown to increase longevity by decreasing age-related heart disease. But when the researchers turned their attention to the effects of KL-VS on cognitive ability or IQ, they found that KL-VS did not curb the decline (gravity is inevitable), as they had hoped, but instead they found that KL-VS did boost IQ by up to 6 points, regardless of age. If this result is confirmed by the research community, KL-VS will be the strongest IQ booster and explanatory factor of genetic IQ variation ever discovered. It is believed that KL-VS could explain as much as 3% of the total variation in human IQ. Although 3% may sound low, this number is multiples greater than other genes believed to explain cognitive ability which had been discovered previously. This finding is also significant as It could mean that an IQ boosting pill could be on the way.

The finding has now been confirmed in mice and other evaluations are ongoing. The applications are compelling: pharma companies might be able to make this into an IQ booster pill format which could help boost the IQ of people who do not have the KL-VS variant of the gene. This would be the IQ booster breakthrough of the Century, and the enable some of us to sharpen our senses.

To test your fluid intelligence, click here.

IQ boosting foods

Gotu Kola: is it really on the list of IQ boosting foods for healthy adults?
IQ boosting foods may include Gotu Kola supplements for children with mental retardation

Diet most definitely plays a part in improving or maintaining your IQ. There are plenty of foods which are reported to enhance mental alertness and even possibly enhance IQ. So you not only need to consider your waist line when it comes to diet, but you also need to consider the impact of what you eat on your brain and your mental processing abilities.

Let’s look at a list of possible IQ boosting foods. We will attempt to categorize them into moderately high evidence, medium evidence and low evidence of possible effects on the brain.

Moderately high evidence

  1. Creatine: often used by bodybuilders, creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid that occurs naturally in vertebrates and helps supply energy to all cells in the human body. An Australian study found that creatine supplementation in the short term provided a significant boost in brain power including memory. Refinements on this study found that creatine supplementation was able to negative the negative effects of sleep deprivation.
  2. Omega and fish oils: supplementation by either pregnant mothers or to young infants has been shown to increase IQs of children by up to 3.5 points. A study in northern England also found that pupil performance improved with fish oil supplementation. Some studies have also found that consumption of fish oils conferred an IQ advantage in adults. Although omega and fish oils are IQ boosting foods, the purity of the oils is also a critical component.

Medium-evidence IQ boosting foods

  1. Gotu Kola: is a pervasive south Asian herb. Its supplementation has been shown to improve IQs of children with mental retardation by up to 10%. It is not clear whether this herb can achieve the same feet in normal children or adults.
  2. Blueberries: some studies have found that their consumption may improve memory in older adults with age-related memory problems. Berries contain flavonoids have recently been found to confer positive benefits to the brain. Whether or not blueberries are really an IQ boosting food remains unknown, but these tasty foods certainly fall in the category of super foods and are thus worth adding to one’s diet.

Low-evidence IQ boosting foods

  1. Gingko Biloba: is a herb that has long been claimed to boost memory and concentration. Although the strongest early evidence in its favor related to the treatment of Alzheimer’s, recent meta analyses have suggested that the herb does not alter the progression of the diseases and that memory or problem-solving abilities are not enhanced by its consumption. This one should really fall off the list of IQ boosting foods.

You may want to test your baseline IQ here, and to re-test once you have added these elements to your diet.

High IQ

120 is a high IQ
High IQs can be found to the right of the normal distribution

What does it mean to have a high IQ? Well the first question to ask is “high IQ relative to whom?” Let us provide some background: relatives of modern-day IQ tests have been around since the late 1890s. The millions of test observations have enabled mathematicians and statisticians to establish several important characteristics about IQ scores. Namely, across a population, IQs follow a normal distribution which means that the same proportion of people will score higher than the average IQ score (usually set to 100), as the proportion of people scoring below the average score. In other words, 50% of the population have an IQ which is greater than 100, while the other 50% have an IQ lower than 100.

To be able to get a complete picture of the statistical properties of IQ however, you also need to know the standard deviation of the test that is being employed to measure the IQ score. The standard deviation measures the dispersion around the mean of all the test observations (scores) in your sample, or for the population. Most IQ tests have a standard deviation of either 15 or 16 (some tests such as Cattell have a standard deviation of 24).

A high IQ can be established by looking at statistical properties of the normal distribution

The beauty of the normal distribution is that once you know the mean (average) and the standard deviation, you can then calculate the percentile (and rarity) of a particular test observation or IQ score. Statistics tell us that about 68% of the population will have an IQ score which is 1 standard deviation (SD) away from the mean. So if the SD of a particular test is 15 for instance, we know that 68% of the population have an IQ between 85 and 115 (i.e. the mean of 100 + or – 15 SD points). About 95% of the population will have an IQ falling within 2 standard deviations of the mean. This means that 95% of people will score between 70 and 130 (again SD 15).

So from a statistical standpoint, you are comparing yourself to the average person (which is assumed to have an IQ score of 100) when you are interpreting your score. So let’s revisit the initial question of what a high IQ represents.

Given that the average score is 100, a high IQ will necessary start to the right of the distribution which is centred on the mean of 100. Most psychologists will agree that an IQ score between 90 and 109 falls withing the average category. A score of 110 to 119 is considered high average. 120-129 is superior intelligence, whilst IQs greater than 130 are considered very superior, a category which is something flatteringly referred to as ‘near genius’.

So we have seen that IQs between 110 and 119 are still considered to be high average. It is therefore not unreasonable to argue that a high IQ starts around 120.

The easiest ‘high IQ society’ to qualify for is Tensa, which requires a score in the top 10% or about 120. The International High IQ Society accepts a score in the top 5% (124 IQ with SD=15), while Mensa accepts applicants with an IQ score in the top 2% of the population (130 IQ if SD=15). Several other  societies including the 999 society are much more selective, requiring a score in the top 99.9% to enter.

High IQ societies abound. But on a practical note, It is said that you can do virtually any job if you have an IQ of at least 115. So from a practical standpoint, a high IQ can be said to start at 115.

Find out about your IQ by taking our culture-fair IQ test here.

Improve your IQ

Being a lifelong student can help improve your IQ
Remaining a student for longer can help improve your IQ and intelligence

As discussed in previous posts, IQs can change over time. In particular, IQ scores may change fairly substantially during childhood and typically stabilize in your teenage years. This can be seen as good news as there may be scope to influence the development of IQ . But it is important to distinguish between the different types of intelligence and how easy it is to improve each type. We also emphasize in this post that it it much easier to improve your IQ score than it is to genuinely improve your intelligence, although both are possible with practice, dedication and suitable lifestyle choices.

In simple terms, general intelligence can be decomposed into two parts: (1) Fluid intelligence, which represents one’s ability to solve novel problems; and (2) Crystallized intelligence,  which relates to one’s ability to learn, retrieve and apply concepts that are either taught or learned. Crystallized intelligence for instance, is much higher in people who pursue advanced degrees or who read a lot of intellectually stimulating materials.

Now that we understand the broad types of intelligence, how do these change as we age?Fluid intelligence peaks in our mid 20s, and begins a fairly steep decline thereafter. Crystallized intelligence, on the other hand, grows steadily until your mid 50s and begins a gentle decline thereafter. Scientific studies therefore confirm that IQ levels change naturally over time, although is possible to alter the so-called natural trajectory as discussed below.

Improve your IQ as well as your general intelligence

First and foremost, it has been shown that fluid intelligence is more difficult to improve relative to crystallized intelligence. This is so because fluid intelligence is thought to be largely innate and reflects your ability to solve problems that you should never have encountered before. Unlike studying for an exam (which makes higher use of crystallized intelligence, and the left hemisphere of the brain) for which you know broadly what materials may be tested, there is limited scope for teaching someone how to be able to react more effectively to never-before encountered situations. What would the curriculum of this course look like? If fluid intelligence is assessed by measuring someone’s ability to solve novel problems, it clearly would make no sense to have a training session to prepare the student on how to solve the problems that are likely to be encountered on such a test.

But the case for improving your fluid intelligence is not a hopeless one. Enter working memory. Working memory is your mental scratchpad or chalkboard which holds information temporarily while you attempt to solve a particular problem. Training your working memory is one of the few approaches that have garnered some scientific support in respect of your ability to genuinely improve your fluid intelligence. More specific training methods will be discussed on future posts.

All of this said, it is easier to improve your IQ score on fluid intelligence tests (i.e. your IQ score) than it is to genuinely improve your fluid intelligence. You can improve your IQ score on a fluid intelligence test by following these recommended steps:

  1. Practice speed and thinking under pressure: this will help ensure that you don’t lose seconds unnecessarily on a timed fluid intelligence test. Processing speed (Gs) is trainable
  2. Attempt as many different types of fluid intelligence tests as possible as you will then begin to establish patterns in respect of the types of questions that might crop up on these tests. In other words, you are diminishing the surprise element on the test or the novel factor by exposing yourself to more types of situations that are meant to be novel
  3. Take each test more than once, and you will start seeing patterns that you may not have spotted the first time around. Practice effects resulting in improvement of up to 8 IQ points are widely known
  4. Learning new skills has been shown to increase the amount of grey matter in your brain. Learning how to juggle and practicing for at least 30 minutes a day will help your reflexes and processing speed

Again, it is unlikely that the above-mentioned methods will help you in genuinely improving your intelligence, but they will definitely help you improve your IQ score.

Achieving a genuine improvement in crystallized intelligence (and crystallized IQ scores), on the other hand, is much easier.

  1. It has been shown that for groups, each year of additional schooling raises IQ
  2. Read more complex material and stretch yourself
  3. Learning a new language, particularly a complex one with a different alphabet, can also bolster cognition

Lifestyle choices are also critical. I will cover some of these in future posts.

In the meantime, try our fluid IQ intelligence test HERE to get an accurate read of your IQ.

The Flynn Effect IQ gains

Flynn effect IQ gains: higher levels of education could be the cause
Flynn effect IQ gain could be explained in part by greater levels of formal education

In 1984, James R. Flynn made the discovery that that IQs of the American population were increasing at a rate of 3 points per decade. This finding was coined “the Flynn Effect” in the controversial book The Bell Curve. This astonishing finding implied that Americans were increasing their intelligence (i.e. the Flynn effect IQ gain) by nearly 9 points per generation, which is over half of one standard deviation for IQ scores. Zhou and Zao confirmed that the rate of 3pt gain in the USA has continued into the 21st Century. Most scientists agree that this is because of societal factors. In the modern world, the increase in the amount of information that one must absorb and the range of experience that people are likely to go through in life are bound to have some profound impact on the brain and on cognitive ability.

Consider the amount of formal education that people tend to go through today vis-à-vis a Century ago (for instance, nearly 60% of Canadians today undertake undergraduate studies). Also consider the amount of information that you come across on the news, the web and through social media. Although Einstein was said to have an IQ of 160, he never was exposed to nearly as much information as the web-savvy, astute reader of the Financial Times, the Economist and the New Yorker would be today. And because crystallized intelligence is one of the major components of general intelligence, it comes as no surprise that people are in fact increasing their smarts. The Flynn effect IQ gain also persists into adulthood, so that means that people are in fact becoming smarter.

If you thought the USA was a special place, then think again. The Flynn Effect was confirmed globally and it turns out that some countries have been experiencing even faster gain than those recorded in the USA.

The Highest Flynn effect IQ gain nations are as follows:

Netherlands: 6.7

Belgium: 5.8

Canada: 4.6

Norway: 3.2

New Zealand: 2.4

Digging deeper into the data however, the IQ gains are not evenly spread across the distribution of IQs. The largest gains in intelligence are found in the lower half of the IQ distribution and the figures quoted above are most applicable to individuals with IQs centered on the mean of 100 (i.e. the average Joe). At the extreme right of the distribution on the other hand, gains are flat to declining which suggests that people with gifted IQs are not getting the same benefit as people who are intellectually average. The Flynn effect gain is largely benefiting Joe Bloggs. All in all, it might be more accurate to state that the average person is getting smarter.

Because of the Flynn effect IQ gain however, it is critical for people to be taking updated IQ tests that have been normed recently to avoid reporting an inflated score.  In other words, people sitting a 30-year old IQ test dating from the early 1980s would be expected to outperform on that test today relative to taking a brand new IQ test that has been normed recently. Remember that IQ tests are always normed at a particular point in time to reflect a mean of 100.

You can assess your fluid intelligence HERE on our recently normed online IQ test.