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How to Get Smarts - The Importance of Intelligence

From eDiets - The online diet, fitness, and healthy living resource

Intelligence is something our culture particularly values, and it can certainly be counted among the more desirable things to have in life.

Defined as the ability for complex thinking and reasoning, and the processes, such as attention and memory, that support it, its an asset in helping people stay motivated and meet long-term goals.

But it’s likely you have some mistaken ideas about intelligence and how you get it. If there’s one thing research shows, reports Cornell University psychologist Stephen Ceci, Ph.D., it’s that intelligence is alterable by a number of factors, including diet and schooling. Consider these facts.

  • IQ scores are correlated with the speed of some simple mental processes.
    According to Dr. Ceci, IQ is correlated with the speed of doing some pretty simple things. Like accurately figuring out which of two lines is longer when lots of other things are going on in the visual field. It may be that such simple tasks require a series of physiological processes and the nervous systems of high IQ people are more efficient, better able to screen out background noise.

  • School attendance counts.
    Of course, intelligence influences the decision to stay in school, but staying in school can by itself elevate IQ or, more accurately, prevent it from slipping. Schooling affects IQ because one of the things that you learn in school is how to organize information categorically. This may be surprising to anyone who views IQ as a measure of innate intelligence, associated with brain size and other neurobiological indicators.

    Studies show that even intermittent school attendance over the years can weaken IQ. The more that children miss school -- and the mental stimulation it provides -- the lower their IQ becomes, as the schooling deficit is cumulative. Perhaps you know it from summer vacations. There is a systematic decline in IQ scores over the summer months. With each passing month away from school, children lose ground from their end-of-year scores on both intellectual and academic tests. The decline is especially pronounced for those children whose summers are least academically oriented. (Summer reading lists are good.)

    Dropping out of high school can diminish IQ by about 8 points. Educational attainment not only boosts IQ, it also boosts earning power.

  • IQ has nothing to do with birth order. Its a myth that first-borns are smarter than later-born siblings. The truth is that smart people tend to have small families, but it is not small families per se that make people smart.

  • IQ is related to breastfeeding.
    Breast-fed infants grow into children with higher IQs than their non-breast-fed siblings -- 3 to 8 IQ points ahead by age three. Immune factors in mother's milk may prevent children from getting diseases that impede early learning. And specific factors in breast milk -- certain omega-3 fatty acids -- directly affect the functioning of the nervous system.

  • Intelligence is plural, not singular.
    In addition to general intelligence, all researchers agree that other, independent mental abilities exist -- spatial, verbal, analytic, and practical intelligence. The skills of practical intelligence, such as common sense, are important in predicting life outcomes but are distinct from IQ-type analytic intelligence.

    Consider emotional intelligence. The abilities to delay gratification, get along with coworkers and manage your own emotions are not measured on IQ tests. But children who are able to put off getting an immediate reward such as a marshmallow, in favor of getting a bigger reward by waiting, turn out to have higher SAT scores years later. Emotional intelligence has a long reach and ultimately leads to more successful life-course outcomes.

  • Intelligence scores are predictive of real-world outcomes.
    Even among people with comparable levels of schooling, the greater a person's intellectual ability, the higher that person's weekly earnings. Workers with the lowest levels of intellectual ability earn only two-thirds what workers at the highest level earn.

  • Intelligence is highly context-dependent.
    Most skills of intelligence are tied to a specific domain. Dr. Ceci and his colleagues have shown that whizzes at handicapping horses at the racetrack, calculating odds and predicting winners can be abysmal at reasoning outside the track. A genius at the track can be a dolt in the stock market, even though both pursuits require many comparable mental activities. It turns out that the knowledge is organized differently in different domains, and so what a person knows about the track can lie fallow on Wall Street.

  • Intelligence is on the rise.
    Theres been a steady increase in performance on IQ tests -- by approximately 20 points every 30-year generation born since 1889. The largest gains appear on nonverbal IQ tests.

  • IQ can be influenced by diet
    Mother was right. Eat your fish; it is brain food.

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