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Heritable And ‘Plastic’ Intelligence: Can You Improve On Nature?

written by: Ollie Hicks•edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 6/28/2011

How much of intelligence is inherited, and how much is down to environmental factors? Is the environmental component 'plastic' to any degree? Can you do anything to improve your 'Intelligence Quotient'? According to some researchers it could well be worth making the effort.

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    How Intelligent Are You - And What Can You Do About It?

    Have you ever taken an I.Q. test, and wondered just how accurate, significant and important the results were? Perhaps you wondered also, when you got the results, if your level of intelligence was something that could be improved upon, or was instead a ‘fixed’ quantity – so much, and no more, allotted to you in perpetuity?

    Some scientists have wondered the same thing too, and have indeed tussled it out in academic papers. The existence of ‘crystallized’ and ‘fluid’ intelligence has been posited. The former is regarded as fixed in nature, but some have challenged the supposedly unalterable nature of the latter.

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    How Important Is The Genetic Component Of Intelligence?

    The notion of a heritable component to intelligence is widely accepted. The measurement ‘g’ has been used to describe an irreducible component of intellect based on brain structure and physiological processes, and presumably initially on genetic inheritance. (This notion is not without controversy: J.R. Flynn has pointed out that related intelligence tests which theoretically test ‘g’ with similar levels of accuracy, do not show the same level of improvement in successive cohorts tested over a period of time. Is there an environmental factor which is not being accounted for? Or are there different types of intelligences, perhaps, requiring more complex measurement than a one-size-fits-all ‘g’?)

    Flynn argues that genetic factors in intelligence win out over environment and early hot housing eventually, as we seek out environments comfortable for our genetic inheritance. However he also thinks that environments which are more or less attuned to an individual's innate intellectual abilities, may stimulate or depress intellectual performance.

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    What Can The Right Environment Do For Intelligence?

    Regarding the genetic component of intellect, studies in fifties America suggested a higher I.Q. level in Chinese Americans as opposed to Caucasian Americans studied. However Flynn disputed these results, noting that the Chinese American results were not ‘normed’ to take account of rises in recorded intellect over time, as the Caucasian American results were. Taking this into account, the superior academic and professional achievements of the Chinese Americans were all the more impressive, and demonstrated the importance of environmental and cultural influences on intellectual achievement, as opposed to strict genetic inheritance.

    So should you accept your intellectual abilities as your lot in life, or like Oliver Twist, should you try asking for more? There seems to be at least some evidence to suggest that if you are willing to work at it and seek out stimulating environments, your intellectual performance might be improved.

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    References

    Science Daily - http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080605163804.htm

     

    GENETICS OF BRAIN STRUCTURE AND INTELLIGENCE

    Annual Review of Neuroscience

    Vol. 28: 1-23 (Volume publication date July 2005)(doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.28.061604.135655)