Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Can you change your IQ?

I keep reading articles about new research (published in Nature last month) finding that IQ is malleable. The sample size of the study (33 British students) was quite small, which means that outlier findings need to be taken with a grain of salt. One student's IQ rose from 107 to 128, and another's fell from 114 to 96. The trumpeted finding is that 9% of students showed a change of 15 points or more, but of course 9% of 33 is 3 kids. The most interesting finding is that MRI scans showed actual brain changes in the kids with the big IQ changes, which suggest that it might not be total measurement error. The idea is that one can possibly change IQ, on the margins, through certain brain exercises.

Some people will no doubt trumpet this as evidence that giftedness is some sort of made up concept, just capturing a snapshot in time among kids whose parents have trained them more than others. But one certainly doesn't have to draw this conclusion. I am comfortable believing these two things at once:

1. I am not nearly as athletically gifted as many other people and never will be and
2. If I practiced hard in any given sport, I could become better at it over time in a way my body might actually physically reflect.

These two beliefs also do not lead me to believe that we should get rid of varsity basketball teams, or camps for children who've shown promise in basketball or that athletic ability is some sort of social construct. So I'm not sure why the idea that IQ might change by one standard deviation in a small number of children would lead anyone to believe that there aren't children who learn differently and need more challenge than others of the same age.


Anonymous said...

Do tests of IQ from the early days have studies to show stability over time? I'm assuming that was done as part of the IQ test creation.
From that small sample size, I'd be looking at other factors that caused 3 of them to have a significant change (drug use, head injury, change in emotional state, etc), and wondering if the brain changes are consistent with the IQ findings, if those type of brain changes occur in the larger population, etc. etc.

It seems that jumping to the idea that IQ can be changed is just too far a leap without looking further.

Anonymous said...

Can IQ change? As in, can a person exercise their brain in a certain way, and therefore do better on an IQ test? I'm sure. In that sense, our brains are use-it-or-lose-it organs, as well as use-it-and-gain-it organs. It makes sense.

So we can "work out" our brains, and be smarter. Excellent. Does this mean that a high IQ is meaningless, or that "gifted" is a useless designation. NO. A world of no. A heaping pile of no. 15 points is significant, but a few things:

1. some students' IQs DROPPED significantly. Were they, perhaps, not challenged appropriately? This screams "educate the gifted appropriately."

2. 15 points *IS* significant, but does not completely negate a very high (or low, or average) IQ score. A student who scores a 100 is highly unlikely to score a 140 on a subsequent test, and a student who scores a 140 is highly unlikely to score a 100. The boundaries and categories may be more fluid and malleable than we assume them to be, but the numbers aren't insignificant just because they can change.

3. I think that this malleability, if it can indeed be proven in a larger context, speaks to the need for identification and talent development in the just-barely-missed-the-cutoff population.

hschinske said...

I don't have any problem with the idea that measurements of IQ can change, even radically, over time (especially upward, as there are so many reasons a person might perform lower than their true ability on a particular day, but of course you also get regression to the mean). Does the person's true highest potential actually change? Eh, dunno. But IQ is not a thing that can truly be measured -- it's just an artificial way of conceptualizing a person's intellectual potential.

I think a lot of the confusions people fall into when considering IQ come from reifying it (thinking of it as a "thing"). But putting a single number to stand for all of a person's intellectual potential in its myriad forms is clearly a massive simplification of what's truly going on. It's useful in some limited ways, yes, but it's not The Truth, or even A Truth, about a person.

There are a whole lot of things we can't truly measure about people, but that doesn't mean that differences don't exist. Heck, I would have a hard time working out accurate methods for quantifying and ranking many totally physical and objective phenomena that exist on a somewhat linear scale. How would you rank "baldness", for example? There are certainly people who are more bald and less bald, but how do you measure that?

Helen Schinske

Luana S. said...

IQ is unlikely to change, but you can "increase" it when you work to reach your full potential.

A person with a potentially high IQ will not perform as well as she should if she thinks, say, to be an idiot in certain areas or if she doesn't believe in herself for a number of reasons (e.g. depression, anxiety attacks, traumas, etc.) or wasn't properly stimulated in certain areas as she grew up.

I can tell you because it happened to me: I scored 96 at first IQ test I took at age 17-18, then I scored 122 at the IQ test I took last month (age 26).

We may have hidden potential, so working hard to take it out of its den can only be beneficial. :)

Luana S.