We often assume intelligence is fixed from birth.
If you’re born with it, you have it. And if you aren’t? That’s too bad. End of story.
Previously, neuroscientists believed that our brains were “fixed”. No matter what someone did, there was nothing they could do to change their brains. If anything, our brain functions would become worse over time.
However, more recent research shows otherwise.
But before we get to that, let’s answer the question: what is intelligence?
What is Intelligence, and Can It Be Changed?
There are two types of intelligence: crystallized intelligence and fluid intelligence. Crystallized intelligence refers to the accumulation of knowledge and information in your brain. A person who has gained a lot of information from experience would have high crystallized intelligence.
Fluid intelligence, however, is where things get interesting. It refers to the ability to apply what you previously learned to a new skill or problem. A person with high fluid intelligence can navigate through new situations, solve problems, and deduce patterns.
Can fluid intelligence be increased with practice? According to one study, it’s entirely possible.
In the study, subjects were put on a working memory task for a period of time. Afterward, they were tested for improvement. As predicted, their scores on the task increased after the training.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Researchers wanted to test whether the subjects’ overall cognitive ability increased. So, they put the subjects on an entirely different task.
Here’s what they found: the subjects were able to transfer that gain of intelligence to a completely different task. The researchers also found that the more training a subject underwent, the greater the gain in fluid intelligence.
It basically means you can increase your fluid intelligence. The more you train, the greater the gain. And when you do train, you can apply that increased intelligence across a wide spectrum of fields.
Now that we know intelligence is malleable, how do we put this knowledge into practice?
How to Give Your Intelligence a Boost
It’s quite simple. There are a number of activities you can do in your spare time to increase your fluid intelligence. When you practice them on a daily basis, you’ll find that gain in intelligence transfer over to other aspects of your life.
Here are five ways to boost your intelligence, backed by science:
1. Move your body.
Walk. Jog. Sprint. Do whatever you can to move around and get your heart rate up. Not only is it good for your physical health, it’s great for your brain as well.
A study showed that cardiovascular fitness is positively associated with intelligence, and can actually raise verbal intelligence by 50 percent. Individuals who regularly performed cardio exercises scored better on cognitive tests. Muscular strength, on the other hand, only had a weak association with intelligence.
Walking increases blood flow to the brain, delivering the nutrients and oxygen necessary for cognitive function. So the next time you have a break, put on a pair of sneakers and get some fresh air outside.
2. Talk to a stranger.
From a cognitive standpoint, engaging with someone briefly beforehand can boost your performance on mentally challenging tasks. The catch is that the benefits only come from friendly interactions, not competitive ones. If you feel the conversation is getting edgy, try seeing things from the other person’s perspective and practice understanding.
When you talk to someone new, you exchange new ideas and information with that person. They provide a different perspective, rather than the same rehashed points you get from old friends and acquaintances.
It can sometimes be challenging to find strangers to strike up conversations with. If there’s nobody around, reading or listening to a book are also good ways to pick up new ideas.
Are you getting enough sleep each night? It’s estimated that one of every three adults in the U.S. don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis.
Lack of sleep can be from any number of reasons: stress, work, sleep disorders, or poor habits. Some people believe they’re the exception to needing adequate sleep, but it isn’t true. Lack of sleep impacts everyone adversely to some degree.
Not getting enough sleep at night affects your brain in these ways:
- It becomes difficult to focus on work, worsening performance and lowering productivity.
- Your reaction time slows down, increasing risk of safety hazards.
- You’re less likely to solve problems and think innovatively.
When you do get a full night’s sleep, you get all the benefits that come with it. You can absorb information and retain it for later. Your brain is also more likely to come up with creative ideas.
4. Pick up an instrument.
According to research, regularly playing an instrument can change the shape of your brain, thus improving cognitive skills. It can even increase IQ by seven points in both children and adults.
Musical skills can also carry over to non-musical skills, including processing auditory information. A person who practices an instrument has an increased grasp of language, motor skills, and intelligence in general.
However, it isn’t enough simply to strum the same song over and over. Practicing an instrument, and therefore increasing your intelligence, requires actively learning how to improve your music skill and progressing onto more difficult music pieces.
5. Learn a new language.
Regardless of when you start, learning a new language can improve your brain in numerous ways. Research has shown that language studies result in an increase in the hippocampus and cortical thickness. When you practice a foreign language, the parts of your brain associated with language undergo structural changes.
As you start speaking and listening to more than one language, you develop a better sense of focus while ignoring irrelevant information. Your brain learns to switch between different languages and becomes more attuned to auditory information. This skill flows into other aspects of life, such as gaining new skills and listening to people speak.
Learning a language can be as immersive as you want it to be. You can learn by regularly using a language app, enrolling in a class, or even spending a summer abroad.
When It Comes to Intelligence, There’s No Gain Without Pain
When you push yourself physically, you can “feel the burn.” Your lungs hurt, your breath becomes short, and you just want to lie down and rest. Your muscles ache afterward.
Pushing your brain to new levels is much the same way. It’s not easy. It’s supposed to feel uncomfortable – in fact, if you feel bored or at ease, you’re not progressing.
Going that extra mile is just what you need to become better. The point that you start feeling comfortable is the point at which you need to push forward. At the intersection of discomfort and challenge is where the biggest growth happens.
Rewire Your Brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life by John B. Arden – A book on how to rewire your brain to improve virtually every aspect of your life, based on the latest research in neuroscience and psychology on neuroplasticity and evidence-based practices.