In his new book “Does your family make you smarter” he proposes that intelligence, rather than plateauing at 18 years of age, can increase throughout adulthood, providing you have a stimulating lifestyle.
Households where people talk, challenge, joke and share cultural pastimes can boost the IQ of family members by several points.
And workplaces that impose intellectual challenges on staff can over time raise their individual intelligence.
The opposite is also true. People who share a home or workplace with dullards for any length of time risk seeing their IQ enter a sharp decline because of lack of stimulation.
Flynn says “Intelligence has always been thought to be static … the new evidence shows that this is wrong. The brain seems to be rather like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it gets. That means you can upgrade your intelligence during your lifetime“.
He suggests the best way to improve your IQ is to marry someone smarter than you, find an intellectually stimulating job, and hang out with bright friends.
Up to now we’ve believed that intelligence is controlled by genes influenced by our nutrition and environment up to age 18 when it stabilises.
Flynn’s research took 65 years of IQ tests from the US and correlating the results with the age of the people creating IQ age tables. From these he draws two conclusions. The cognitive quality of a family alters the IQ of all members but especially children i.e. it can lift them or hold them back.
For example a bright child of 10 with siblings of average intelligence will suffer on average a 5-10 point IQ disadvantage compared to a similar child with equally bright brothers and sisters. A child with a lower IQ can gain 6-8 points by having brighter siblings and educational support.
The effects are more clear in the early years with arithmetic skills strongly controlled by the home environment up to age 12 and verbal skills affected up to teenage years.
He also believes, based on this research, that although genetics and early life experience determine about 80% of intelligence the rest is strongly linked to our lifestyle as adults.
“As you leave childhood behind the legacy of your family diminishes but the game is not over. A large proportion of your cognitive quality is now in your own hands. You can change it yourself and your IQ can vary through life according to your own efforts” says Flynn
“Going through life feeling your childhood is holding you back is misunderstanding how much power you have to improve yourself”.
I don’t know if his book (out next month) makes any reference to the use of technology and social media and its impact of family interaction because that would have some impact.
This is certainly a game-changing idea and will undoubtedly be challenged although there has been other research which suggests there is something more to IQ than commonly believed.
In 2011 researchers at the University of Pennsylvania said that they found that high IQ scores are a result of high intelligence plus motivation whereas low IQ scores could be because of the lack of either intelligence or motivation (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
They also said that students offered incentives improved their IQ scores and suggested that people with high IQs may be not only more intelligent but also more competitive
There is also research that shows you can improve the collective IQ of a group by adding more women.
Research in Scotland found that people with mentally stimulating jobs suffered less cognitive decline as they got older.
And recently researchers at the University of Texas found that busy over-50s had higher cognitive scores than younger people.
Experts in emotional intelligence have long held that EI, unlike IQ, continues to develop into adulthood. Now it seems we have the capacity to develop both our cognitive and socio-emotional skills.
People with a sunny outlook are more popular and have better health.
That’s according to a study reported last week in the Daily Telegraph.
It showed that optimistic people experience more positive emotions because they make more social connections which in turn improves physical health.
So positive emotions could be as important for your health as exercise and your regular fruit and vegetables.
The study, published in the journal Psychology Science, was led by positive psychology pioneer Prof Barbara Frederickson, at the University of North Carolina, and Dr Bethany Kok from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany.
They observed the physical effects of positive emotions by studying participants’ vagal tone – the body’s control over the vagus nerve which helps to regulate heart rate among other things.
People with a high vagal tone ie more control over the vagus nerve, tend to be better at regulating their emotions. It was hypothesised that those with higher vagal tone experienced more positive emotions. The optimism arising from that should improve social connections, further increasing vagal control and thereby improving physical health in an upward spiral.
The researchers wanted to know if participants could cultivate optimism and thereby improve their chances of better health. So participants were randomly assigned to either a 6-week loving-kindness meditation (LKM) course or left on a waiting list for the course. All of them had their vagal tones assessed at the start and end of the study.
Those on the course learned how to cultivate positive feelings of love, compassion and goodwill towards themselves and others.
The results showed that those with higher vagal tone in the LKM group showed steeper emotions over the course of the study. As their positive emotions increased so did their reported social connections which in turn led to an increase in their vagal tone. Those on the waiting list showed no change in vagal tone over the course of the study.
Prof Frederickson was reported to have said that “positive emotions may be an essential psychological nutrient that builds health, just like getting enough exercise and eating your fruit and vegetables”.
The ability to manage your emotions is an important aspect of emotional intelligence which has been posted elsewhere on this blog.
It appears that this study was carried out in a scientific way unlike an earlier report from Germany about alternatives to going to the gym which turned out to be an urban myth.