Different types of intelligence and why your IQ is not fixed

Different types of intelligence and why your IQ is not fixed

One of the greatest assets you can have in today’s post-information society is being smart.

Intelligence is an important resource that can bring you status, respect, academic and career advancements, better earning potential, new ways to create and contribute to the world and let’s not forget the capacity to forge better strategies and make smarter decisions.

Being intelligent doesn’t guarantee these things and it’s sometimes not even a mandatory factor, but it absolutely does help.

In general, intelligence refers to the ability to learn new things quickly, solve logical problems, think abstractly, comprehend new ideas, learn from experience, and even to the overall mental adaptability to new situations.

Components of intelligence are at least the following:

  • Curiosity – the desire to know various phenomena
  • Depth of mind – the ability to separate the important from the secondary
  • Flexibility and mobility of mind – the ability to use experience widely in different situations
  • Logicality of thinking – the ability to follow a strict sequence of reasoning
  • Conclusiveness of thinking – the ability to use facts, regularities and correct judgment
  • Criticality of thinking – the ability to discard incorrect judgements
  • Breadth of thinking – the ability to comprehend the whole coverage of intellectual activity

Since intelligence is an extremely important asset, there is always one question in the forefront – is intelligence inherited and fixed, or can it somehow be improved with the right resources and environment, even when you’re older? As we will see, there is no simple answer to that, and the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

The most popular test of intelligence is the IQ test, which measures the ability to solve problems, reason logically and use the vocabulary. IQ tests are strongly connected to the g factor, which measures general intelligence. And the g factor is hard to improve, especially when tests are focused on fluid intelligence. But that's only one part of the story.

Your genes and early development did have a huge influence on your general intelligence development that’s hard to improve in the adult age. At most it can be fine-tuned. But that doesn’t mean you are completely limited at becoming smarter. There are many ways you can maximize your intellectual potential.

Your IQ is not fixed

Is IQ really fixed or can you become smarter somehow?

Let’s go straight to the main question – is IQ fixed or not? The answer is unfortunately not very straightforward, but more like yes and no. Studies show that people who are at the top of intelligence tests when young, stay at the top in their adult and senior age. But … (you see, there is a but).

Overall, people show a higher IQ with age. That means, your IQ improves (linearly) with age when you learn new things and improve your skills. It can also start to decline fast in the old age. Thus, your IQ is a relative measure that represents your standing among your peers at a certain age.

You absolutely have some influence on how big your improvement will be. If you take good care of your brain, deliberately practice and learn a lot, you might progress faster than average. And if you don’t take care of your smarts at all, you might decline much faster than average.

The test showed that there are outliers when it comes to IQ tests. Much like some people lost their cognitive abilities (due to a mental illness, for example), so did a few people show greater improvement than average.

Changes in intelligence can be very big, especially at a young age and in adolescence when brain’s plasticity is not yet reduced. That’s why babies can learn languages faster than adults.

On the other hand, regular learning and brain training can prevent cognitive decline in the old age. And you can at least fine-tune biological intelligence that is limited by the neural efficiency of your brains.

What we do know for sure when it comes to intelligence is the following:

  1. At a young age (up to the age of 16) the environment has a great influence on the development of intelligence. IQ can be increased or decreased during childhood. What happens during pregnancy and afterwards (diet, stress) also has a great influence on child’s intellectual development.
  2. If you practice a particular intellectual skill you get better at that skill, even if your overall intelligence doesn’t improve. In the same way, you can develop crystalized intelligence (knowledge) faster than your peers at any point in your life if you devote yourself to regular learning.
  3. Most people don’t reach their intellectual potential. That means they don’t use all the intellectual capacity they possess. Curiosity, good learning skills, applying knowledge in new situations, developing new competences, seeking complex intellectual environments, all that leads to reaching intellectual potential.
  4. The fluid intelligence and working memory can be improved at least in the short term with different brain games, exercises and learning. Even in the adult age you can develop new brain synapses, but it’s much harder than at a young age. In the old age, intellectual effort and different brain games can prevent cognitive decline.
  5. People with the growth mindset don’t limit themselves with a fixed IQ, but rather accept the fact that they can grow and improve in any skill. With that attitude, they often overcome the limits of average general intelligence and become more successful and even smarter.
  6. Children without an extremely high IQ that are exposed to certain knowledge domains (and practice that domain regularly from a young age on, for about “10,000 hours”) in combination with encouraged creativity can become geniuses.

Here is the most important fact – we do know for sure that most people don’t reach their intellectual potential.

What an individual can achieve with a combination of practice, hard work, assets and savviness, is completely different from what most people do achieve. Most people prefer to settle in a certain intellectual standing backed by the fixed mindset and stay in that intellectual comfort zone for the rest of their lives.

That kind of thinking absolutely leads to cognitive decline and loss of IQ points (they don’t catch up with their peers), and especially slow development of crystalized intelligence. Thus, a much better question rather than if the IQ is fixed or not is: how can you make sure that you employ all of your brain potential and maximize your smarts?

If you are mentally active, your cognitive abilities improve, and if you neglect your smarts, you are in cognitive decline. You lose what you don’t use.

How improving your intelligence might work

Taking care of your health and body is a very good analogy for becoming smarter. How you look is very much determined by your genes and early development. Like with intelligence, the inheritance and early environmental factor is very strong.

Nevertheless, there is a big difference between maximizing your looks with a good diet, regular exercise and taking good care of yourself (grooming, outfit etc.) and being careless about your body and appearance and becoming slovenly. I’m sure you saw many before and after photos, where people decided to take better care of their body and health. It’s like looking at a completely different person.

No fat and full face with double chin, better skin, more charming energies and better self-confidence, a whole new person. The beauty of an individual is still somehow fixed, but taking good care of yourself does make a huge difference.

It’s the same with intelligence. There are definitely biological limits you can’t cross. But the difference between maximizing your intelligence and neglecting your potential can be colossal; like on those before and after photos.

The problem in both cases (becoming fit or maximizing intellectual potential) is  that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. There must be a growth mindset present backed by persistence and regular deliberate practice.

Brain power

If you want to improve your smarts, here are the things you can do:

  • The brain manual: The first thing you can do is to know how your brains work and treat them according to what works best proved by science. From improving your learning style to regularly developing creative and analytical skills, maintaining your brain cells with proper brain diet and regular physical exercise.
  • Optimizing working memory: A very important part of the brain’s operational manual is understanding how the working memory works. Smarter people usually have a greater working memory capacity or know how to use it better. There are several things you can do to improve your working memory – from learning to manage negative thoughts to training your attention span and practicing a dual n-back game.
  • Crystalized intelligence: If you practice a particular skill (or knowledge domain), your overall intelligence might not improve, but you definitely become better at that particular skill. But that’s the only thing that really matters. You can improve the intellectual skills that you can use in everyday life. In the end, nobody will ask you what your IQ score is, but what kind of skills do you possess.
  • A smart attitude: You can always develop the right attitude to maximize your intellectual potential. Curiosity, growth mindset, seeking complex environments, practicing knowledge transference, applying knowledge in new situations, learning new languages, these are all the things that help you achieve your intellectual potential and prevent cognitive decline.

As you can see, there absolutely are ways to improve your smarts. If you practice certain types of intellectual tasks, you become better at those tasks. Similarly, when you learn something new, it takes up less of your working memory when recalled, so you can manipulate more information at the same time. And if you know how to learn properly, you can learn more things in a shorter time.

Good genes and general intelligence might be given. But that shouldn’t be your excuse. Richard Feynman, theoretical physicist most known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics (whatever that means) wore his low IQ test result of 125 as a badge of honor. He wanted everyone to know about it as a sign that showed how absurd the notion of an IQ test is.

How improving your IQ absolutely doesn’t work and what hinders your intelligence

Feynman quoteBefore we go to different types of intelligence, a word of caution. Knowing different types of intelligence might quickly give you an excuse to be intellectually lazy. You know, you find a type of intelligence that you know you’re good at and then you say to yourself that you are obviously smart enough and life goes on.

It’s appealing to think that everybody is smart in a certain way. While we all do have different abilities, being strong in one ability shouldn’t give you an excuse to not work hard on all different types of intelligence, maximize your intellectual potential or accept some of your intellectual limitations (overall intelligence or some domains where you have to work harder) and make the most from your individual situation.

A unique personal style always comes out of limitations, thus you have to use them to your advantage.

We also know many factors that hinder your intelligence. Stress is one of them. Stress kills your working and long-term memory. Stress can wipe out your brain cells, wither the connection between neurons, and by changing the blood flow in your brain the emphasis is more on animal instincts (4F response) than on being a reasonable empathic human being. A lack of sleep has the same negative effect on your smarts.

  • Head injuries
  • Traumatic situations
  • PTSD
  • Regular drug use
  • Bad diet
  • Dehydration
  • Too much alcohol
  • Having a stroke
  • Avoiding exercise
  • Chronical negative thinking
  • Smoking
  • Taking steroids
  • Extreme anxiety and panic
  • Exposure to toxic elements and pesticides
  • Air pollution
  • Too high sugar consumption
  • Isolation
  • Depression
  • Multitasking
  • Obesity
  • Burnouts

They all have a very negative effect on your brain performance.

9 different types of intelligence - infographic

Nine independent and different types of intelligence

The idea of one general intelligence that is inherited and fixed was always challenged. One of the first people to challenge it was Robert J. Sternberg who developed the triarchic theory of intelligence.

He argued that there are three important parts of intelligence – analytical or componential, creative or experimental, and contextual or practical.

Howard Gardner took a step further and developed the theory of multiple intelligences. In the theory, he presented the idea that there are nine independent types of intelligence and argued that people who fall short in some of the types might excel at others.

He also argued that schools focus on logical and linguistic abilities and neglect other types of intelligence. The nine types of intelligence are:

  • Naturalist Intelligence (“Nature Smart”) – understanding how nature works, together with materials, plants and animals.
  • Musical Intelligence (“Musical Smart”) – recognizing, creating, reproducing and reflecting on everything connected to tones and music.
  • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (“Number/Reasoning Smart”) – it’s the ability to do mathematical operations, perform experiments, think in abstract and symbolic dimensions, identify patterns, categories and relationships.
  • Existential Intelligence (“Spiritual Smart”) – the capacity to tackle questions about the human existence, the meaning of life, why we die and what happens after life.
  • Interpersonal Intelligence (“People Smart”) – all the skills related to understanding and interacting with other people, from verbal and non-verbal communication, showing sympathy and empathy, to motivating and leading others.
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (“Body Smart”) –physical and sports capabilities together with the ability to manipulate objects and to apply a variety of physical skills. It also includes the sense of timing and strength of the connection between mind and body.
  • Linguistic Intelligence (“Word Smart”) – the ability to express complex meaning with words and applying meta-linguistic skills to reflect on the use of language.
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence (“Self Smart”) – the capacity to understand yourself, together with all the thoughts and feelings, and use of that knowledge to plan your life’s direction.
  • Spatial Intelligence (“Picture Smart”) – the ability to think in three dimensions, together with spatial recognition, image manipulation, artistic skills and active imagination.

The idea that everybody is smart in some way is very attractive. But research shows that supposedly independent domains are highly correlated. As we said, there might be a type of intelligence where you really excel, but we must not neglect the empirical evidence on general and fluid intelligence.

CHC - Intelligence - Model

Source: Wikipedia

The g factor and ten different intelligence domains

We know a term for general intelligence – the controversial g factor, which is supposed to be more or less fixed (scientists are not uniform on that). You can’t influence it with education, brain games, diet or by any other means.

The g factor is your biological limit in intelligence, especially fixed in the adult age. It’s the general intelligence on top of all the cognitive abilities. Full scale IQ scores show the general intelligence.

The g factor was developed by Charles Spearman in the early years of the 20th century. His observation was that children’s performance across different unrelated subjects was positively correlated.

The underlying mental ability, or the g factor, has an influence on how you do on most intellectual tests. In other words, individuals who tend to do well at one type of tests, tend to excel at other types of tests as well. The influence of the general intelligence on performing a cognitive task is around 50 %.

Interestingly, genes contribute 20-40 % of the variance in intelligence in childhood and about 80 % in the old age. The older you are, the more difficult it is to improve your g factor. A complex intellectual environment that encourages brain activity has a great influence on brain development and intelligence until the age of 16 and then declines fast.

CHC model of intelligence

The Cattell–Horn–Carroll theory is today the most widely accepted theory of cognitive abilities that is also supported by empirical evidence. It supports and integrates everything we’ve talked about intelligence until now. It’s a very complex theory that incorporates the g factor and different types of intelligence.

The g factor consists of 10 broad intelligences that are further divided into narrow intellectual abilities. Here are all the broad and narrow intellectual abilities that are measured in the CHC model:

  • Fluid intelligence – broad ability to reason, form concepts, and solve unique problems using new information and novel procedures
    • Deductive reasoning – solving a problem by going from general knowledge to specifics
    • Induction – reasoning from specific cases to general knowledge
    • Piagetian reasoning – seriation, conservation and classification
    • Speed of reasoning – speed or fluency in performing reasoning tasks in a limited time
  • Crystalized intelligence – Acquired knowledge with the ability to communicate that knowledge and the ability to reason using previous abilities and knowledge
    • Language development – general understanding and application of words and sentences
    • Lexical knowledge – extent of vocabulary
    • Listening ability – the ability to receive and understand spoken information
    • General information – general stored knowledge
    • Information about culture – general stored cultural knowledge (music, art etc.)
    • Communication ability – the ability to speak in everyday life situations
    • Oral production and fluency – specific and narrow oral communication skills
    • Grammatical sensitivity – proper construction of words and sentences
    • Foreign language proficiency – language development for foreign languages
    • Foreign language aptitude – rate and ease of learning a new language
  • Quantitative reasoning – the ability to comprehend quantitative concepts and relationships and the ability to manipulate numeric symbols
    • Mathematical knowledge – range of general knowledge about mathematics
    • Mathematical achievement – tested mathematical achievement
  • Reading and writing ability – basic reading and writing skills
    • Reading decoding – the ability to recognize and decode words or pseudowords in reading
    • Reading comprehension – the ability to attain meaning during reading
    • Verbal language comprehension – general development or the understanding of words, sentences, and paragraphs measured by reading vocabulary and comprehension
    • Cloze ability – the ability to read and supply missing words from prose passages
    • Spelling ability – the ability to form words with the correct letters in accepted order
    • Writing ability – the ability to communicate information and ideas in written form
    • Language usage knowledge – knowledge of language mechanics such as capitalization, punctuation, usage, and spelling
    • Reading speed – the ability to silently read and comprehend connected text
    • Writing speed – the ability to copy words or sentences repeatedly, or writing words, sentences, or paragraphs, as quickly as possible
  • Short-term memory – the ability to hold information in immediate awareness, and then use it within a few seconds
    • Memory span – the ability to attend to, register, and immediately recall temporally ordered elements and then reproduce the series of elements in correct order
    • Working memory – the ability to temporarily store and perform a set of cognitive operations on information that requires divided attention
  • Long-term storage and retrieval – the ability to store information and retrieve it later in the process of thinking
    • Associative memory – the ability to recall one part of a previously learned but unrelated pair of items when the other part is presented
    • Meaning memory – the ability to note, retain, and recall information where there is a meaningful relation between bits of information
    • Free recall memory – the ability to recall as many unrelated items as possible
    • Ideational fluency – the ability to rapidly produce a series of ideas, words, or phrases related to a specific condition or object
    • Associational fluency – a specific ability to rapidly produce a series of words or phrases associated in meaning when given a word or concept with a restricted area of meaning
    • Expressional fluency – the ability to rapidly think of and organize words or phrases into meaningful complex ideas under general or more specific cued conditions
    • Naming facility – the ability to rapidly produce accepted names for concepts or things when presented with the thing itself or a picture of it
    • Word fluency – the ability to rapidly produce isolated words that have specific phonemic, structural, or orthographic characteristics
    • Figural fluency – the ability to rapidly draw or sketch as many things as possible when presented with a non-meaningful visual stimulus
    • Figural flexibility – the ability to rapidly change set and try out a variety of approaches to solutions for figural problems that have several stated criteria
    • Sensitivity to problems – the ability to rapidly think of a number of alternative solutions to practical problems
    • Originality and creativity – the ability to rapidly produce unusual, original, clever, divergent, or uncommon responses to a given topic, situation, or task
    • Learning abilities – general learning ability rate
  • Visual processing – the ability to perceive, analyze, synthesize and think with visual patterns
    • Visualization – the ability to mentally imagine, manipulate or transform objects
    • Spatial relations – the ability to perceive and manipulate patterns and maintain orientation
    • Closure speed – the ability to identify a familiar visual object from an incomplete representation
    • Flexibility of closure – the ability to identify a visual figure or pattern embedded in a complex distracting array
    • Visual memory – the ability to form and store a mental representation or image of a visual shape
    • Spatial scanning – the ability to quickly and accurately survey a wide or complicated spatial field or pattern and identify a particular configuration through the visual field
    • Serial perpetual integration – the ability to identify a pictorial or visual pattern when parts of the pattern are presented rapidly in serial order
    • Length estimation – the ability to accurately estimate or compare visual lengths or distances
    • Perceptual illusions – the ability to resist being affected by the illusory perceptual aspects of geometric figures
    • Perceptual alternations – consistency in the rate of alternating between different visual perceptions
    • Imagery – the ability to mentally encode and manipulate an object, idea, event or impression in the form of an abstract spatial form
  • Auditory processing – the ability to perceive, analyze, synthesize and discriminate auditory stimuli
    • Phonetic coding – the ability to code, process, and be sensitive to nuances in phonemic information in short-term memory
    • Speech sound discrimination – the ability to detect and discriminate differences in phonemes or speech sounds under conditions of little or no distraction or distortion
    • Resistance to auditory stimulus distortion – the ability to overcome the effects of distortion or distraction when listening to and understanding speech and language
    • Memory for sound patterns – the ability to retain auditory events such as tones, tonal patterns, and voices
    • General sound discrimination – the ability to discriminate tones, tone patterns, or musical materials regarding their fundamental attributes
    • Temporal tracking – the ability to mentally track auditory sequential events to be able to count, anticipate or rearrange them
    • Musical discrimination and judgment – the ability to discriminate and judge tonal patterns in music
    • Maintaining and judging rhythm – the ability to recognize and maintain a musical beat in the short-term time period
    • Sound-Intensity and duration discrimination – the ability to discriminate sound intensities and to be sensitive to the rhythmic aspects of tonal patterns
    • Sound-Frequency discrimination – the ability to discriminate frequency attributes of tones
    • Hearing and speech threshold factor – the ability to hear pitch and varying sound frequencies
    • Absolute pitch – the ability to perfectly identify the pitch of tones
    • Sound localization – the ability to localize heard sounds in space
  • Processing speed – the ability to perform automatic cognitive tasks, especially under pressure
    • Perceptual speed – the ability to rapidly and accurately search, compare and identify visual elements presented side-by- side or separated in a visual field
    • Rate of test taking – the ability to rapidly perform tests which are relatively easy or over‑learned
    • Number facility – the ability to rapidly perform basic arithmetic and accurately manipulate numbers quickly
    • Speed of reasoning – speed or fluency in performing reasoning tasks in a limited time
    • Reading speed – the ability to silently read and comprehend connected text rapidly and automatically
    • Writing speed – the ability to correctly copy words or sentences repeatedly, or writing words, sentences, or paragraphs, as quickly as possible
  • Decision speed and reaction time – how fast can an individual react to stimuli or task
    • Simple reaction time – reaction time to the onset of a single stimulus that is presented at a particular point of time
    • Choice reaction time – reaction time to the onset of one of two or more alternative stimuli, depending on which alternative is signaled
    • Semantic processing speed – reaction time when a decision requires some encoding and mental manipulation of the stimulus content
    • Mental comparison speed – reaction time where stimuli must be compared for a characteristic or attribute
    • Inspection time – the ability to quickly detect change or discriminate between alternatives in a very briefly displayed stimulus

Besides mental intelligence, we also know body intelligence (independent or connected to cognitive abilities) that includes:

  • Psychomotor speed – the ability to rapidly and fluently perform physical body motor movements largely independent of cognitive control
    • Speed of limb movement – the ability to make rapid specific or discrete motor movements of the arms or legs
    • Writing speed – the ability to correctly copy words or sentences repeatedly, or writing words, sentences, or paragraphs, as quickly as possible

Speed of articulation – the ability to rapidly perform successive articulations with the speech musculature

  • Movement time – the time taken to physically move a body part to make the required response
  • Psychomotor abilities – the ability to perform physical body motor movements with precision, coordination or strength
    • Static strength – the ability to exert muscular force to move (push, lift, pull) a relatively heavy or immobile object
    • Multi-limb coordination – the ability to make quick specific or discrete motor movements of the arms or legs
    • Finger dexterity – the ability to make precisely coordinated movements of the fingers
    • Manual dexterity – the ability to make precisely coordinated movements of a hand, or a hand and the attached arm
    • Arm-hand steadiness – the ability to precisely and skillfully coordinate arm-hand positioning in space
    • Control precision – the ability to exert precise control over muscle movements, typically in response to environmental feedback
    • Aiming – the ability to precisely and fluently execute a sequence of eye-hand coordination movements for positioning purposes
    • Gross body equilibrium – the ability to maintain the body in an upright position in space or regain balance after balance has been disturbed
  • Olfactory abilities – the abilities that depend on sensory receptors of the olfactory system
    • Olfactory memory – memory for smells
    • Olfactory sensitivity – sensitivity to different smells
  • Tactile abilities – the abilities involved in the perception and judging of sensations that are received through touch sensory receptors
    • Tactile sensitivity – the ability to detect and make fine discriminations of pressure on the surface of the skim
  • Kinesthetic abilities – the abilities that depend on sensory receptors that detect bodily position, weight, or movement of the muscles, tendons, and joints
    • Kinesthetic sensitivity – the ability to detect, or be aware, of movements of the body or body parts

Source: Wikipedia and CHC – Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) Broad and Narrow Cognitive Ability Definitions

As you can see, there are many different types of intelligence. There are absolutely certain areas where you excel. But even though the g factor on top is more or less fixed, there are several ways how you can transcend this limitation at least to a certain extent (probably enough to be successful in any field in life):

  1. Building up crystalized intelligence
  2. Leveraging the power of a motivational environment
  3. Possessing the growth mindset

Crystallized and fluid intelligence

Fluid and crystallized intelligence – that’s what really matters

As we have seen, many researchers reject the idea of a single measurement of intelligence such as the g factor. They argue that there are at least there two independent domains of cognitive performance of an individual – crystalized and fluid intelligence. And crystalized intelligence has its own important place in the CHC model.

Fluid intelligence is the capacity to figure out novel problems, and it’s more or less fixed. It’s limited by the brain’s biological traits. Crystallized intelligence is, on the other hand, defined by how much you know, by your knowledge and experience. It’s influenced by education and acculturation. Crystalized intelligence is the knowledge and skills that you possess. It’s what matters at the end of the day.

While crystalized and fluid intelligence are correlated, they change at different levels when you age. Fluid intelligence tends to peak at 20 and then slowly decline after. On the other hand, crystalized intelligence is stable and increases over your lifetime; and you have a huge influence on how your crystalized intelligence will advance.

The more you study, learn and expose yourself to new things, the smarter you become by increasing your crystalized intelligence.

There is also a possibility that acquiring additional knowledge can fine-tune your fluid intelligence by using your working memory better.

When you bring something from the long-term memory into the working memory (by bringing something to mind), it occupies fewer working memory slots than it did initially when you were trying to memorize it. It gets kind of compact (like zipping a file), and that enables you to play with more ideas at once and connect knowledge in new ways.

Smooth physical repetition creates muscle memory, and smooth mental repetition creates knowledge chunks that take up less working memory; you don’t have to relearn or re-explain pieces of information to yourself. You just know it and can intuitively do it; you know it from memory. And that’s how you become smarter by knowing more.

Environmental influences

Your development, actions and intelligence are always a product of your genes and your environment. Your genes activate or react differently in various environments. In other words, every inherited trait, even intelligence, can be enhanced, decreased, woken up or eliminated by repeating life experiences or functioning in a specific environment.

When it comes to intelligence development, the environment is especially important in the pre-natal period and in youth all the way up to the end of adolescence. But it can have a positive influence on your smarts even later.

When it comes to intelligence, the following elemental variables are important:

  • Family – home resources, parents’ use of language, birth order, amount of praise etc.
  • Peer group – stereotypes, complex intellectual environments etc.
  • Education – in general, IQ decreases during summer breaks, children with delayed schooling and dropouts have lower IQ, less schooling usually equals lower IQ.
  • Training – fluid intelligence can be increased through training, at least in the short-term, by improving the working memory. The growth mindset also has a great influence on intellectual abilities.
  • Environmental enrichment – more stimulating environments can increase the number of synapses in the brain, especially at a young age, but also later.
  • Nutrition – nutrition has an effect on intelligence even before birth, as well as afterwards, where sufficient protein intake is especially important.
  • Stress – maternal stress, traumatic life situations and constant pressure have a negative influence on intelligence.
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals – exposure to some toxic chemicals can reduce mental abilities of a child during pregnancy and at a young age. Similarly, alcohol, drugs and tobacco can have a negative influence on the child’s intellectual development.
  • Perinatal factors – complications at birth or low birth weight can have serious implications on the child’s intellectual development.
  • Environmental exposure – if a child is exposed to a specific knowledge domain and creativity is encouraged at the same time, the child can develop exceptional understanding of that field. That’s how geniuses are born, even if they don’t have a really high IQ.

With age, the potential positive influence of the environment declines, but an influence still exists. It’s been proven that your brain synapses can grow in the older age as well.

Thus, seeking complex intellectual environments, lifelong learning, regular reading and developing competences, proper nutrition, building yourself a motivational environment and avoiding severe stress does have a positive influence on your cognitive abilities.

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

Graph content: Carol Dweck, Image: Nigel Holmes

If you can influence your intelligence, that means only one thing – grow

I’m pretty sure you don’t like the idea that the IQ is completely fixed. Neither do I. A fixed IQ would be a very unfair thing. While biology and primary socialization absolutely impose limits on us, as we’ve seen, you can fine-tune your overall intelligence, and even more dramatically improve your crystalized intelligence.

Actually, only being able to improve your crystalized intelligence and optimizing your working memory is not enough. You must constantly improve both, otherwise you are falling behind. If you’re not going forward, you’re going backwards. And you’re wasting your potential and resources. That’s where the right attitude and the growth mindset come into play.

Stanford professor Dr. Carol Dweck has found out that the biggest difference between successful and unsuccessful people lies in their mindset. The right mindset is more important than IQ.

You can either have a fixed mindset or a growth one. If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that your character and potential are unchangeable, have been “written in stone” since birth. You assume that they cannot be modified or improved in a meaningful way.

The second option is a growth mindset. It means that you believe that you can improve your character by working on yourself. If you have a growth mindset, you see yourself as being at a specific starting point with the option to improve yourself through hard work – your skills, beliefs, competences and intelligence.

The fixed mindset leads to hiding your flaws, doing only things that you are naturally good at, feeling defined by failures, being unwilling to improve your relationships, and feeling bad if everything doesn’t go as planned, even if you’ve learned something new.

On the other hand, with a growth mindset, flaws and problems are only opportunities to improve. The new and the unknown bring learning opportunities, mastery leads to passion and purpose, and every failure is only a temporary setback. Nothing is given and everything can be improved.

When it comes to intelligence, you can at least fine-tune your fluid intelligence, dramatically develop your crystalized intelligence over the years, excel at specific cognitive tasks (that other people will pay you for), make sure you reach your intellectual maximum, apply your skills in various life situations, and prevent your cognitive decline.

You can achieve all that with the right attitude powered by the growth mindset, curiosity, deliberate practice and hard work.

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