Tag Archives: iq

Children in greener urban areas have a higher IQ and fewer behavioral issues

Children living in urban areas with a higher percentage of green space have higher intelligence and fewer behavioral problems, according to a new study. The findings bring yet another piece of evidence regarding the importance of green areas for children’s cognitive development.

Credit Jay Hsu. Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A group of researchers from Belgium assessed the intelligence of over 600 children between 7 and 15 years old. They found that a 3% rise in the greenness of their neighborhood increased IQ score by an average of 2.6 points, an effect noticed both in rich and poor areas of Belgium.

“There is more and more evidence that green surroundings are associated with our cognitive function, such as memory skills and attention,” Tim Nawrot, a professor at Hasselt University in Belgium, where the study was conducted, told The Guardian.

“What this study adds with IQ is a harder, well-established clinical measure.”

The researchers used satellite images to check the level of greenness in the neighborhoods where participants lived. They reviewed parks, gardens, street trees, and all other types of vegetation. The average IQ score of the children was 105, with 4% of them with a score below 80 having grown up in areas with low levels of green areas.

None of the children had an IQ score below 80 in areas with a high amount of green space. Nevertheless, the benefits seen from greenery in urban areas weren’t replicated in suburban or rural areas. This might have been due to those places having enough greenness for everyone living there to benefit from, Nawrot said.

The researchers also measured behavioral difficulties in children such as aggressiveness and poor attention, using a standard rating scale. The average score was 46, with a 3% increase in greenery leading to a two-point drop in behavioral problems, agreeing with the findings of previous studies.

“I’m always wary of the term intelligence as it has a problematic history and unfortunate associations,” Mathew White, an environmental psychologist from Exeter University, not related to the study, told The Guardian.

“But, if anything, this study might help us move away from seeing intelligence as innate – it could be influenced by the environment, and I think that is much healthier.”

The researchers argue this is the first study investigating the association between residential green space and intelligence in children. Previous studies have already shown that urban green space is important for cognitive development in children by improving working memory, attention, and school performance.

The results provide important policy and public health implications. Whereas in 1950, only 30% of the world’s population lived in urban areas, more than half of the global population today lives in cities. This is expected to increase to 68% by 2050.

Residents of urban areas often have limited access to natural environments in their daily lives. That’s why understanding the health disparities that exist between urban and rural environments is essential for maintaining and improving human well-being in a rapidly urbanizing world, according to the researchers.

The study had a set of limitations. Surrounding green space was assessed based on residential location; however, no information on school location was available. No information was available on time-activity patterns, such as time spent outdoors, and on possible mediators between green space and intelligence.

The study was published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Can you raise your IQ score?

Credit: MaxPexel.

Children who demonstrate superior scores on intelligence quotient (IQ) tests tend to show higher levels of educational attainment, acquire more venerated occupational status, and earn higher incomes than children with inferior scores. As such, understanding the underlying biological and psychological mechanisms of intelligence is important in order to bring up the full potential of an individual.

Modern studies have shown the intelligence is not fixed at birth, but rather fluctuates as the brain matures. Adolescents are particularly subjected to intelligence plasticity. But if such is the case, all of this begs the question, can you improve your IQ?

What drives human intelligence?

Early scholars used to think that intelligence was hereditary and fixed. Most now agree that upbringing and education also play major roles — by how much has been a matter of debate, however.

Studies comparing identical and fraternal twins found that about half of IQ can be explained by genetics. The other half of variability in IQ is attributed to the environment.

The challenge in separating genetics from the environment lies in the fact that it’s difficult to isolate educational factors. For instance, a smarter person will be inclined to stay more in school and earn more years of education than a person who is less mentally equipped.

According to a 2018 meta-analysis that blended the results of 28 studies, totaling 600,000 participants, each added year of education lifted the participants’ IQ scores, on average, between 1 and 5 points.

Interestingly, humans are getting smarter. Average intelligence levels, as measured by standardized intelligence tests, have steadily risen since the early 20th century. According to one study involving more than 4 million people in 31 countries, people have been gaining 3 IQ points every decade or roughly 10 IQ points per generation. This phenomenon is known as the “Flynn effect”, after scientist James Robert Flynn, who first documented the observation in the 1980s. There’s not one satisfying explanation but some factors contributing to the effect may include improvements in nutrition, expansion of formal schooling, increases in average educational attainment, environmental improvements (i.e. less lead exposure), and shrinking family size, which allows more focus on the education of each child.

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”What do we mean by intelligence? ” footer=””]Intelligence is typically measured as Intelligence Quotient (IQ). IQ describes an individual’s average performance on a range of standardized tests spanning multiple domains, compared to the performance of a representative sample of people the same age.[/panel]

Interestingly, the Flynn effect can also work backwards. New research by Robert Flynn suggests that IQ scores in Scandinavian countries are showing a decline of about 6.5 IQ points per generation — from a very high baseline, it’s important to mention. Elsewhere, the pace of IQ improvements is slowing down, suggesting that a peak followed by a reversal may be in store.

Gains in IQ scores in the US over the last 50 years. Credit: What Is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn.

Gains in IQ scores in the US over the last 50 years. Credit: What Is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn.

It’s not clear yet exactly how education might increase IQ scores, or whether the effects of schooling build up with each passing year (So don’t assume that earning a four-year degree is going to pump up your IQ score by 20 points). Furthermore, IQ and general intelligence are not the same thing, although they may correlate.

While IQ is a useful metric, it never measures intelligence directly, so schooling might only improve particular skills that match up with the kind of tasks found in IQ tests, as opposed to a broader improvement in general cognitive ability.

Modern IQ tests measure both crystallized and fluid intelligence. Crystallized intelligence refers to knowledge and skill gained through life, meaning it’s based on facts and grows with age. Situations that require crystallized intelligence include reading comprehension and vocabulary exams. Fluid intelligence, on the other hand, is the ability to reason, solve problems, and make sense of abstract concepts. This ability is considered independent of learning, experience, and education. So, it makes sense that schooling improves IQ scores in general — perhaps due to more crystallized intelligence.

What about brain training — does that work? The billion-dollar industry claims that cognitive tests and training programs can boost fluid intelligence, but the evidence is sketchy at best, at least as far as mainstream programs go. Cognitive training is loosely defined as regularly engaging in a cognitive task, such as memorizing a list of words, a set of pictures, or a certain route to a particular target. One study found that participants who played brain training games developed by Luminosity bumped up their IQ by five to ten points — but only if they believed the training would have an effect on their cognition. In other words, a lot of the benefit of these games may be all in our heads, kind of like a placebo effect.

There are some instances in which brain training — but necessarily the kind marketed by companies on the internet — seems to boost some cognitive aspects. In 2017, researchers at John Hopkins University found that the “dual n-back” memory sequence test, in which people have to remember constantly updating sequences of visual and auditory stimuli, improved participants’ working memory by 30%.

Perhaps the most promising form of brain training is relational skill training, which a 2016 study showed can boost IQ and scholastic aptitude. Relational aptitude does not refer to interpersonal social interactions but rather to the competence in dealing with a wide variety of abstract relationships between things in our environment. For instance, Relational Frame Theory (RFT) states that understanding that the opposite of an opposite relation is the same relation, or that if A is more than B then B must be less than A.

Cassidy et al. performed several months of an intensive training intervention based on RFT on fifteen children aged 11 to 12 in order to improve their understanding of the relations Same, Opposite and More and Less. The results were impressive (23 IQ points rise on average), to say the least, as summarized by the graphic below.

Credit: Bryan Roche.

Another study published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology picked off from where Cassidy et al. left off. The researchers split 28 children aged between 10 and 11 into two groups. One group was assigned to SMART (Strengthening Mental Abilities with Relational Training), which taught the children to derive complex relationships between nonsense words across thousands of examples and using trial-by-trial feedback (e.g., Cug is the same as Vek, Vek is opposite to Mer, Mer is opposite to Gew, Is Cug the same as Gew?). The second group was assigned to ScratchTM training, an online computer coding training programme produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Irrespective of what group they were part of, all participants received 29 hours of training.

Before and after their training, the participants completed various IQ tests (WASI, WIAT-II, and WISC-IV) and a standardized scholastic aptitude test (SAT). The relational skills training group improved their scores on all but one of the tests. Meanwhile, the Scratch group did not experience any significant increase in their test scores, IQ or otherwise.

Pre and post-training average IQ scores for participants who received either SMART or Scratch training. Credit: Bryan Roche.

Pre and post-training average IQ scores for participants who received either SMART or Scratch training. Credit: Bryan Roche.

What makes relational skills particularly interesting in a brain training context is the fact that the study’s participants saw improvements in both standardized reading and spelling tests. That’s despite the fact the SMART intervention didn’t specifically train these aspects. As such, the findings suggest that SMART intervention has a “transfer of effect” to broader cognitive abilities, which a lot of other training programs have sought  to do(and failed in the process).

It seems like relational skills intervention offers the most promising avenue for boosting cognitive abilities or recovering intellectual deficit. Research in this area is still in its early days, though, so more studies will be required before scientists might reach a definite conclusion.

At the end of the day though, while these sort of interventions, gimmicks, and brain games might help raise your IQ, that doesn’t mean you’ll get smarter. What I mean is the way you approach challenges and solve problems in real life shouldn’t change too much — unless your day-job involves guessing the next shape in a sequence of inverted squares.

[UP NEXT] What’s the highest IQ in the world (and should you actually care?)

Credit: Pixabay.

What is the highest IQ in the world (and should you actually care?)

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

IQ stands for ‘Intelligence Quotient’ and is a numerical score based on standardized tests which attempt to measure general intelligence. However, Aan IQ test does not measure intelligence in the same way a ruler might measure the height of a person. Instead, IQ scores are always relative to the median score (typically 100) that reflects the general intelligence of the population.

Modern IQ tests measure a person’s ability to reason and use information to solve problems through questions and puzzles. Some of the things that an IQ test will typically measure is short-term and long-term memory, how well a person can solve puzzles, and how quickly.

Measuring intelligence

People have always been aware that some are better at mental tasks than others, but it wasn’t until a French psychologist by the name of Alfred Binet that a qualitative lens was cast on the diversity of human intelligence. Together with colleague Théodore Simon, in 1905, the psychologists devised the Binet-Simon test, which focused on verbal abilities and was designed to gauge ‘mental retardation’ among school children.

These tests, which in time also included questions that gauged attention, memory, and problem-solving skills, quickly showed that some young children were better able to answer complex questions that older children. Based on this observation, Binet concluded that there is such a thing as ‘mental age’ which can be higher or lower than a person’s chronological age.

In 1916, Stanford University translated and standardized the test using a sample of American students. Known as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, this test would go on to be used for decades to quantify the mental abilities of millions of people around the world.

The Stanford-Binet intelligence test used a single number, known as the intelligence quotient (or IQ), to represent an individual’s score on the test. This score was computed by dividing a person’s mental age, as revealed by the test, by their chronological age and then multiplying the result by 100. For instance, a child whose chronological age is 12 but whose mental age is 15 would have an IQ of 125 (15/12 x 100).

The Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale – Fifth Edition test measures five content areas, including fluid reasoning, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing and working memory.

A reasoning question typical of IQ tests. The participant has to figure out what shape should come next in the pattern. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A reasoning question typical of IQ tests. The participant has to figure out what shape should come next in the pattern. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Building upon the Stanford-Binet test, psychologist David Wechsler developed a new IQ test that better measures a person’s different mental abilities. The first test, known as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS), was released in 1955. Later, Wechsler released two different IQ tests: one specifically designed for children, known as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), and the other designed for adults, known as the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI). The modern adult version of the test is known as the WAIS-IV and has gone through numerous revisions to accommodate recent research.

A WAIS-IV is made of 10 subtests and 5 supplemental tests, which score an individual in four major areas of intelligence: a Verbal Comprehension Scale, a Perceptual Reasoning Scale, a Working Memory Scale, and a Processing Speed Scale. These four index scores are combined into the Full-Scale IQ score (what people generally recognize as the ‘IQ score’). There’s also the General Ability Index which is based on six subset scores, which are good at identifying learning disabilities. For instance, scoring low in some areas of the General Ability Index but scoring well in other areas may indicate a specific learning difficulty, perhaps warranting specialized attention.

[panel style=”panel-default” title=”How IQ is scored” footer=””]A person’s overall IQ score is calculated from their aggregate performance on all of these various subtests, by ranking the person’s score on each subtest against the scores of other people who have taken it.


The modern WAIST test does not score IQ based on chronological and mental age but rather based on the scores of other people in the same age group. The average score is fixed at 100, with two-thirds of the population scoring between 85 and 115, while at the extremes, 2.5% of the population scores above 130 and 2.5% scores below 75. Basically, the IQ score moves 15 points in either direction with each standard deviation.

Some IQ tests measure both crystallized and fluid intelligence. Crystallized intelligence refers to knowledge and skill gained through life, meaning it’s based on facts and grows with age. Situations that require crystallized intelligence include reading comprehension and vocabulary exams.  For instance, a test might ask “what’s the difference between weather and climate” or “who was the first president of the United States”. These sort of questions test a person’s knowledge of things that are valued in a certain culture (a person from India might not know the answer to many IQ test questions given in the US, but that doesn’t make them any less intelligent).

Fluid intelligence, on the other hand, is the ability to reason, solve problems, and make sense of abstract concepts. This ability is considered independent of learning, experience, and education.  For example, participants of an IQ test might have to figure out what a shape would look like if it were rotated.

What’s the highest IQ score

When IQ scores are plotted on a graph, they follow what’s known in statistics as a ‘bell curve’. The peak of the “bell” lies at the mean, where the majority of IQ scores lie. The bell then slopes down to each side; one side represents scores that are lower than the average, and the other side represents scores that are above the average. As the slope of the bell trails off, you’ll find the extremely high (gifted) and extremely low (disabled) IQ scores. Most people have average intelligence.

IQ scores follow a bell curve distribution.

IQ scores can be interpreted in brackets, as follows:

  • 1-70: low;
  • 71-84: below average;
  • 85-115: average;
  • 116-144: above average;
  • 145-159: high;
  • 160+: genius.

The problem is that IQ tests can get really fuzzy in the uppermost bracket, the reason being that the higher the IQ, the smaller the population group there is to use for scoring. For instance, people with an IQ of 160 have a population size of only 0.003% — that’s only 3 out of 100,000 people. That being said, although there is no known upper IQ limit, all of this implies some practical limitations when evaluating the IQ of super gifted individuals.

William James Sidis. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

William James Sidis. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

This brings the question: who’s the person with the highest IQ ever? According to some, that would be William James Sidis (1898-1944), with an IQ estimated between 250 and 300. A true child prodigy, Sidis could read English by the time he was two and could write in French by age four. At age five, the young Sidis devised a formula whereby he could name the day of the week for any given historical date. When he was eight, he made a new logarithms table based on the number 12. At age 12, Sidis was admitted to Harvard where he wrote theories on “Fourth Dimensional Bodies” and graduated cum laude before his sixteenth birthday. At this age, Sidis could already speak and read fluently in French, German, Russian, Greek, Latin, Armenian, and Turkish.

Young Sidis’ achievements did not fly under the radar, with the foremost newspapers of the time following his academic record and reporting outlandish stories.  They also constantly harassed the young Sidis, who came to loathe the press and the “genius” staple. The celebrity and pressure might have gotten to him in the end. After a brief stint in 1918 teaching at Rice University in Texas, Sidis went through various clerk jobs. Reclusive in nature, all Sidis wanted in life was a job that paid his most basic expenses and which made no further demands from him. Sidis died poor and with not much to show for in terms of academic achievements (Harvard professors would speak of the young Sidis, while he was still attending the university, that he would grow to be the greatest mathematician in the world). His only published work is a three-hundred-page treatise on collecting streetcar transfers. According to American Heritage

“The book, Notes on the Collection of Transfers, contains densely printed arcana about various interconnecting lines, scraps of verse about streetcars, and some simple, foolish streetcar jokes that the author might have enjoyed in his childhood, had he had one. Sidis published it under the unlovely pseudonym of Frank Folupa, but reporters managed to ascribe the book to him, tracked him down, and again he fled.”

Sidis’ IQ is said to have been tested by a psychologist, and his score was allegedly the very highest ever recorded. William Sidis took general intelligence tests for Civil Service positions in New York and Boston, gaining phenomenal records which are the stuff of legends. This information could not be verified at this date, and perhaps never will be.

Terence Tao. Credit: YouTube.

The most reliable record-high IQ score belongs to Terence Tao, with a confirmed IQ of 230. Tao is an Australian-American mathematician born in 1975, who showed a formidable aptitude for mathematics from a very young age. He entered high school at the age of 7, where he began taking calculus classes. He earned his bachelor’s degree at 16 and his Ph.D. degree at 21.

Tao, who reportedly had a normal social life while growing up and is now married with children, really exploited his talent. Over the years, Tao has garnered a bevy of prestigious awards for his work, including the Fields Medal (which is like the Nobel Prize of math), and the MacArthur Foundation grant (which is often referred to as the “genius prize”). At the moment, Tao is a professor of mathematics and the James and Carol Collins Chair at the University of California (UCLA).

In an interview with National Geographic, Tao rejected lofty notions of genius, claiming that what really matters is “hard work, directed by intuition, literature, and a bit of luck.”

Cristopher Hirata. Credit: Breakthrough Prize.

Cristopher Hirata. Credit: Breakthrough Prize.

The second highest confirmed IQ belongs to Christopher Hirata, with an IQ of 225. He was only 13 years old when he won the gold medal in 1996 at the International Physics Olympiad. From age 14 to 18, Hirata studied physics at Caltech, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2001. While at Caltech, Hirata did research for NASA on the colonization of Mars and received his Ph.D. in 2005 from Princeton University in Astrophysics. The 36-year-old works for NASA where he supervises the design of the next generation of space telescopes. His theoretical research deals with Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), dark energy and accelerated expansion of the universe, galaxy clusters, and the large-scale structure of the universe. In 2018, Hirata was awarded the prestigious New Horizons in Physics Breakthrough Prize for fundamental contributions to understanding the formation of the first galaxies in the universe and for sharpening and applying the most powerful tools of precision cosmology.

Terence Tao and Cristopher Hirata have both taken actual IQ tests, but you’ll find on the internet so-called “top 10 smartest people” lists which include many individuals who have never been tested. For instance, some websites include in their lists people such as Gary Kasparov (IQ 180), Johann Goethe (IQ 225), Albert Einstein (IQ 160), and even Leonardo da Vinci (IQ 160) or Isaac Newton (IQ 190). These scores are estimated based on the individuals’ biographies so they shouldn’t be trusted, which doesn’t mean such famous personalities weren’t highly intelligent individuals — after all, the magnitude of their success speaks for itself.

How much does an IQ score matter?

IQ scores can predict how many children or how much money a person can hope to have throughout life. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

IQ scores can predict how many children or how much money a person can hope to have throughout life. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

According to the scientific literature, a person’s IQ is highly correlated with measures of longevity, health, and prosperity. According to one study involving one million Swedes, having a high IQ also protects people from the risk of death — so much so that there was a three-fold difference in the risk of death between the highest and the lowest IQs.

IQ is also positively correlated with career success, unsurprisingly showing that more intelligent people make for better employees (see graph below). The correlation is not perfect though — measured from -1 to 1, where a correlation of 1 would mean in this case that every IQ point would result in an incremental increase in career success — so there’s plenty of room for other individual factors not measured by standard intelligence tests.

Credit: All That Matters.That being said, there’s a lot of leeway as to what makes a person successful or helps him or her master a craft. Luck certainly plays a role (terminal illness on one end of the negative extreme or having a loving, wealthy family while growing up at the other end of the positive extreme). But then there’s a far more important and, at the same time controllable, variable: that’s grit.

Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, interviewed people from all walks of life, attempting to determine what characteristics made some of them successful in life.  She found grit was the one trait that stood out among the people who had ‘made it’. Grit, Duckworth told Science News, has two parts: passion and perseverance. In one of her studies, Duckworth found that students with higher grades in university tended to have more grit (unsurprisingly). However, students with higher university entrance exam scores tended to be less gritty than those who scored lower. In other words, by the end of university, grit is a better predictor of success (graduation score) than intelligence (as measured by entrance-exam scores).

Let’s talk a bit about the higher end of achievement, or what’s the traditionally considered the domain of geniuses. In the early 21st century, Professor Lewis M. Terman evaluated a large sample of children who score at the top end of the IQ scale and followed them as they aged to see if they would become veritable geniuses in adulthood. By the end of his evaluation, the researcher wound up with 1,528 extremely bright boys and girls who averaged around 11 years old. Their average IQ was 151, with 77 children claiming IQs between 177 and 200 — that’s on the extremely gifted scale.

Until they reached middle age, the original study participants (affectionately called “Termites”) were periodically tested, the results of which were included in the five-volume work, entitled the Genetic Studies of Genius. No one among the study’s participants went on to achieve what society truly deems genius — a person who has made an outstanding contribution in a certain field of study, let’s say. Many became more or less successful lawyers, engineers, doctors, scientists, and other respectable professionals. Although we should bear in mind many of the participants grew up between the two world wars, it’s perhaps surprising to learn that many other participants were far less likely to graduate from college or to attain professional or graduate degrees.

When the IQs of the most successful Termites was compared to the comparatively least successful ones, researchers found little differences, suggesting intelligence is not a good predictor for high achievement. As chances have it, this fact is nowhere better illustrated than the cases of Luis Walter Alvarez and William Shockley, Nautilus wrote. When they were little boys, the two were tested by Terman but didn’t make the cut. However, both were monumentally successful. Alvarez went on to become one of the most brilliant and productive experimental physicists of the 20th century, earning the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physics. Shockley earned his P.h.D. from MIT and wrote his first patent at age 28. In 1956, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with two other colleagues for inventing a device without which our rich digital lives would be all but impossible — that’s the transistor. No Termite ever won a Nobel Prize.

Yes, having a high IQ score is a good predictor of achieving success and living a better life than the mean — it’s a nice head start, but that’s not enough in and of itself. Unless you’re disabled, you can make up for a lack of special aptitude (as perceived by an IQ score) through grit, resilience, and working on something you truly love to do.

Did you ever take an IQ test? Share your results and opinion on the matter in the comment section below. 

[UP NEXT] Can you raise your IQ score?


Smart on a budget: researchers design free IQ test that takes 10 minutes to complete

Researchers from the University of California (UC) Riverside and UC Irvine have developed a new IQ test kit. The test is reliable, takes only 10 minutes, and it’s completely free.


This is the customary cliche for ‘intelligent’, right?
Image credits Urh Kočar.

The most commonly-used IQ measuring tool used today is the Advanced Progressive Matrices, or APM, developed by John C. Raven in 1936. It’s a cross-referenced tool that has stood the test of time, making it a benchmark in its field. It’s not without flaws, however: it takes between 40 to 60 minutes to complete an APM test. Furthermore, a single kit and its answer sheets can cost up to hundreds of dollars — which is quite pricey.

That’s why a team of UC researchers set out to make their own test.

I’m you, but shorter (and free)

The new test, christened the University of California Matrix Reasoning Task (UCMRT), is actually highly comparable to the APM. However, it’s much shorter, taking only 10 minutes to complete. The UCMRT measures “fluid intelligence” — intelligence that is not dependent on pre-existing knowledge and is linked to reasoning and problem solving– and works on tablets and other mobile devices. Most importantly, it’s a reliable tool for measuring nonverbal problem-solving skills, the team says, which is a good predictor of academic proficiency.

The UCMRT offers three alternate versions, allowing the test to be used three times by the same user. The APM only has a single version.

“Performance on UCMRT correlated with a math test, college GPA, as well as college admissions test scores,” said Anja Pahor, a postdoctoral researcher who designed UCMRT’s problems and works at both UC campuses.

“Perhaps the greatest advantage of UCMRT is its short administration time. Further, it is self-administrable, allowing for remote testing. Log files instantly provide the number of problems solved correctly, incorrectly, or skipped, which is easily understandable for researchers, clinicians, and users. Unlike standard paper and pencil tests, UCMRT provides insight into problem-solving patterns and reaction times.”

Raven’s APM, while reliable, is often more of a liability in studies. It’s much too expensive, requires a lot of time to complete (which puts many volunteers off), and provides the same set of questions each time — meaning it isn’t very useful for repeat testing. However, there simply weren’t any viable cross-validated alternatives to the APM. Pahor and her co-authors decided to develop the UCMRT following their experience with the test. The test’s design is largely based on matrix problems generated by Sandia National Laboratories. The UCR Brain Game Center wrote the code for the problems.

UCMRT screenshot.

UCMRT screenshot.
Image credits UCR Brain Game Center.

The test only has 23 problems for individuals to tackle, whereas the APM has 36. Still, the team’s testing revealed that both work equally well. UCMRT was tested on 713 students, of whom about 230 took both tests. The UCMRT results correlated with “APM about as well as APM correlates with itself,” Pahor said. In fact, there’s one area where the new test takes the cake:

“UCMRT predicts standardized test scores better than Raven’s APM,” said Aaron Seitz, a professor of psychology at UCR and paper co-author. “Intelligence tests are big-money operations. Companies that create the tests often levy a hefty charge for their use, an impediment to doing research.”

“Our test, available for free, levels the playing field for a vast number of researchers interested in using it.”

The design of the UCMRT allows the inclusion of variants that can be used for different age segments of the population, the team adds. Visual appeal was also prioritized when designing the problems, to help keep participants motivated during each task. The UCMRT also comes with a few practice problems to get everybody into the groove before the actual testing begins.

“We are motivated by helping the scientific community and want to create versions of UCMRT for different age groups and abilities,” Seitz added. “This test could help with early intervention programs. We are already working on a project with California State University at San Bernardino to move forward with that.”

Among other future plans, the team also wants to design non-English versions of the UCMRT.

The paper “Validation of a matrix reasoning task for mobile devices” has been published in the journal Behavior Research Methods.

Natural selection is weeding out our drive to go to school, study reports

The genes that make some people seek higher education seem to have been selecting themselves out of our genome for the last 80 years, a new study has found. The authors think that this process of negative selection will have a big effect on the evolution of the human race in the future centuries.

Image credits Pixabay / Pexels.

Researchers from the Iceland-based genetics firm deCODE have studied the genomes of over 129,808 natives looking for genetic markers that predispose people to achieve longer periods of education. The team looked at the birth rates of these people (all between 1910 and 1990) and sequenced the genome of each individual.

By comparing this genetic data to their level of education, the team found that a genetic factor was involved in a person’s likelihood of attending school for longer. The last step was to create a ‘polygenic score’ based on more than 600,000 sequence markers in the genome to estimate a person’s genetic predisposition for education.

Still, genetics obviously isn’t the only factor that dictates a person’s levels of education. After correlating the polygenic score with environmental, social, and biological factors, however, the researchers found individual with higher scores were less likely to have many children.

Running out of a good thing

In essence, they found that these genes also made people less likely to have a large family — meaning that in the end, smart people contribute less and less to the country’s gene pool.

“As a species, we are defined by the power of our brains. Education is the training and refining of our mental capacities,” said Kari Stefansson, CEO of deCODE.

“Thus, it is fascinating to find that genetic factors linked to more time spent in education are becoming rarer in the gene pool.”

This finding doesn’t mean that people are dumber than ever. Modern education along with a wider access to schools and information than before should balance out or even over-match the genetic effect. However, after a few centuries’ worth of this effect adding up, we could be in some serious trouble.

“In evolutionary time, this is a blink of an eye. However, if this trend persists over many centuries, the impact could be profound.”

Overall, the average polygenic score was on a slow but evolutionary-significant decline. They also found a drop in average IQ of about 0.04 points per decade. But that might be an understatement of the problem — as Ian Sample from The Guardian reports, “that figure might rise to 0.3 points per decade” if the researchers included “all the genes that contribute to education”.

Fighting biology with textbooks

The team believes that smarter people don’t have fewer children because they’re busy doing smart stuff instead of pestering the opposite sex. It seems that the genes involved in education can actually affect their fertility on a biological level. They report that the carriers of these genes tended to have fewer children on average than those who didn’t even if they had the same level of education.

The study was performed using only subjects in Iceland, so there’s no guarantee as of now that people in other countries are going through the same process. Still, it’s something that we’d better keep an eye on. The results go to show the importance of continuing and improving education access and quality all over the world.

“In spite of the negative selection against these sequence variations, education levels have been increasing for decades. Indeed, we control the environment in which these genetic factors play out: the education system,” Stefansson said in a press statement.

“If we continue to improve the availability and quality of educational opportunities, we will presumably continue to improve the educational level of society as a whole.”

“Time will tell whether the decline of the genetic propensity for education will have a notable impact on human society.”

The full paper “Selection against variants in the genome associated with educational attainment” has been published in the journal PNAS.


Poor cookware might be lead poisoning an entire continent


Photo: irisglobal.org

A study suggests that immense amounts of lead are being ingested in Africa, since extensive use of cookware made from recycled materials leaks lead into the food. This is the first time the extent of lead poisoning has been assessed. Results suggest that in some instances, as much as 200 times the threshold amount for lead poisoning is being ingested. The health hazards following lead poisoning are numerous, most notably causing cognitive impairment.

Better check that pot

The Ashland University researchers partnered with the Cameroonian NGO Research and Education Centre for Development (CREPD) to assess the damage of makeshift cookware, typically made from  recycled scrap metal; including car and computer parts, cans, and other industrial debris. The team analyzed 29 samples of aluminum cookware made in Cameroon and simulated cooking by boiling a mildly acid solution in each cookware for two hours.

The team found that a typical serving contained almost 200 times more lead than California’s maximum allowable dose level of 0.5 micrograms per day, and if that wasn’t bad enough, traces of aluminium and cadmium were also discovered to leach from the cookware.

“These locally made aluminum pots are the most commonly used in Cameroon and throughout Africa, so the lead levels we found are alarming and a threat to public health,” said Gilbert Kuepouo, Executive Director of CREPD and one of the study’s authors.

“This previously unrecognized lead exposure source has the potential to be of much greater public health significance than lead paint or other well-known sources that are common around the world,” added co-author Perry Gottesfeld.

Lead is a tremendously damaging substance and children are the most vulnerable to it because they’re developing and lead is foremost known for attacking cognitive functions. Studies have repeatedly shown that lead poisoning causes brain damage, impaired cognition, lower educational performance, and a range of other health effects. Perhaps the most famous example of how lead can actually influence a whole society is how crime rates in the US plummeted following lead gasoline ban. It may very well be a correlation fallacy, but truth is atmospheric lead does in fact severely affect cognition and by the looks of it, lead is poisoning a whole continent.

“Unlike some other sources of lead contamination, lead poisoning from cookware can impact entire families over a life-time. Even low-level lead exposures can result in reduced IQ and neurological deficits,” concluded Ashland University’s Jeffrey Weidenhamer.

There are no regulatory standards for lead in cookware but the Globe Wellness Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have determined that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.

“This previously unrecognized lead exposure supply has the possible to be of substantially greater public wellness significance than lead paint or other nicely-known sources that are common about the globe,” mentioned Perry Gottesfeld, executive director of Occupational Expertise International.

Recently performed surveys of lead exposures in Africa and Asia have recommended that blood lead levels have remained stubbornly elevated in spite of the ban on lead in gasoline in most of the planet. “The presence of lead in meals cooked in these pots may perhaps be a single contributing factor to the ongoing lead poisoning epidemic,” Gottesfeld said.

Findings appeared in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

The Gaussian IQ curve.

A possible way of predicting low IQ embryos – should we interfere then?

Cardiff University  researchers report on Monday that  children with two copies of a common gene (Thr92Ala), together with low levels of thyroid hormone are four times more likely to have a low IQ. It was found that this combination occurs in 4% of the UK populace.

In the future genome sequencing will become so cheap that almost anyone will afford to have their children’s genes sequenced right from the womb. Various combinations of genes, chemicals and other environmental factors in the womb greatly influence how your child will grow up to be. Soon, in addition to other findings sure to follow in like with these from Cardiff, scientists will be able to better predict if children will be born with a disease, how strong or how intelligent they may become. All of these raise an important question: if we can make children smarter, should we? What about cognitively disabled children – would you choose therapy for your unborn child if a doctor told you it would have a sub-average IQ? Would you choose that your baby gets more chances to make it in life? These are extremely tough questions and, thankfully, most of us are far from being in such a delicate position. I mean, we’ve all seen Gattaca for Christ’s sake.

Steadily science seems to be heading towards this scenario, though. For instance, mothers that choose in vitro fertilization (IVF) have their embryos routinely checked and diagnosed for major diseases. It’s likely gene screening will also be part of the diagnosis process.

Boosting IQ

Back to the study at hand, the Cardiff researchers found that a common gene variation and lower thyroid hormone levels were four times more likely to have an IQ under 85.  Below 70 is classified as intellectual disability but an IQ of 70 to 75 is similar to mild intellectual disability. The findings seem to be a step further in the direction of   neonatal screening. The researchers claim that the children could be treated with standard thyroid tablets, which should help them normalize their levels and balance their cognition.

The Gaussian IQ curve.

The Gaussian IQ curve.

Thyroid hormones are essential for brain development in childhood and, recently, scientists have looked at a certain enzyme, called deiodonase-2, involved in processing thyroid hormones inside cells. A variant of the same gene was also previously linked with diabetes and high blood pressure. Children with lower thyroid hormone levels alone did not have an increased risk of lower IQ, only those that also additionally have the Thr92Ala gene variant were at increased risk.

So, what happens is that essentially there’s no way to make your kids super smart, not yet at least, but there apparently may be a way to help a potential  intellectually challenged child to level up.

Lead researcher Dr Peter Taylor from Cardiff University said: “If other studies confirm our finding then there may be benefit in carrying out a genetic test for this gene variant in addition to the standard neonatal thyroid screening which would identify children most at risk of developing low IQ.

“Children with satisfactory thyroid hormone levels together with the genetic variant have normal IQ levels, which raises the possibility that children at risk could be treated with standard thyroid hormone tablets to compensate for impaired thyroid hormone processing.”

People with rated  IQs between 75 and 90  are faced with significant disadvantages, according to statistics.  Individuals with this lower level of intelligence are at significant risk of living in poverty (16%), being a chronic welfare dependent (17%) and are much more likely to drop out of school (35%) compared to individuals with average intelligence.

The findings were presented at a conference of the Society for Endocrinology in Liverpool on Monday.


Intelligence linked to ability of ignoring distractions

People with higher IQ have a much better ability to ignore background distractions, because they are just much better at filtering out useless information.


Now personally, I’m not a big fan at defining intelligence, especially using the IQ type of tests, and even less any results that are demonstrated starting from here. Reality has shown us that IQ is a not a good way of showing who is intelligent and who is not, but this is still an interesting, relevant study.

The study group was asked to take a standardized test, and then watch short video clips of black and white bars moving across a computer screen. While some videos were small and filled only the centre of the screen, others filled the entire screen. The participants’ only task was to identify in which direction the bars wil start moving – right or left.

The results showed that people with higher IQ scores were faster at noticing the movement of the bars when observing the smallest image – but they were slower at detecting movement in the larger images. These apparently vague results were very clear to study leader Michael Melnick of the University of Rochester:

“From previous research, we expected that all participants would be worse at detecting the movement of large images, but high IQ individuals were much, much worse.

As authors explain, in most cases, background movement is much less important than small moving objects in the foreground, like for example driving a car. As a person’s IQ increases, so does his (or her) ability to filter out distracting background motion and concentrate on the foreground. But the ability to ignore background movements is not the only indicator of “intelligence”.


“But since this task is so simple and so closely linked to IQ, it may give us clues about what makes a brain more efficient, and, consequently, more intelligent. “We know from prior research which parts of the brain are involved in visual suppression of background motion.

“This new link to intelligence provides a good target for looking at what is different about the neural processing, what’s different about the neurochemistry, what’s different about the neurotransmitters of people with different IQs.”

Via BBC.

Why is the average IQ higher in some parts of the world?

Being smart is the most valuable thing a man can have for himself; seriously – this is not a metaphor. Studies have shown that babies spend as much as 90% of their energy building their brains, and even as an adult, 25% of your energy goes directly to the brain.

A great number of studies have shown that IQ levels vary greatly throughout the world, but also within the boundaries of the same country, and this has intrigued researchers for ages. Are the causes genetic, environmental, or a mixture of both? A higher IQ in the vast majority of cases leads to a better education, better job performances, a bigger salary, improved productivity and lower risk of obesity, among others. So understaning this variance could have huge benefits. With this thought in mind, Christopher Eppig, Corey Fincher and Randy Thornhill published a paper in the Proceedings of The Royal Society.

Until now, scientists have offered a few somewhat satisfactory explanations about the IQ distribution; for example, Nigel Barber argued that variation in IQ is due primarily to differences in education. Donald Templer and Hiroko Arikawa argued that colder climates are difficult to live in, such that evolution favors higher IQ in those areas. Satoshi Kanazawa suggested that evolution favors higher IQ in areas that are farther from the evolutionary origin of humans: sub-Saharan Africa. Basically, evolution has developed us in such a way that we can survive without thinking too hard. As we migrated away though, the environment became much tougher, forcing us to adapt and develop in order to survive. However, this new study comes up with a new and interesting idea.

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They claim that since so much energy is given to the mind during childhood, a blow to this energy, such as infectious disease, could have an extremely harmful effect – and they tested this idea. The results were quite clear, showing that there is a direct connection not only between significant infectious childhood diseases and IQ, but also between intestinal worms and IQ levels.

However, despite these clear results, the study has its limitations; education is perhaps the most powerful parameter in this case, and it is practically impossible to eliminate. In order to limit its effects as much as possible, they studied a single nation, with standardized, compulsory education – the United States. Average IQ varied in different states, but again, infectious disease was an excellent predictor of average state IQ. The states with the five lowest average IQ all have higher levels of infectious disease than the states with the five highest average IQ, and the relationship was good across all of the states in between.

Of course, this doesn’t go to say that this is the main factor in intelligence quotient – not at all. But it does suggest that it is more important than genetic factors, for example; if this was the case, then IQ would be extremely hard to change by any factor whatsoever.

Breastfeeding Associated With Increased Intelligence



Or at least this is what a study conducted by scientists from Mcgill suggests. They made the largest study of breastfeeding and the results they found were that it increases both IQ and academic performance.

In the article in which the study was published, Dr. Michael Kramer reports the results from following the same group of 14,000 children for 6.5 years. They evaluated the children in 31 Belarusian hospitals and clinics. Half the mothers were exposed to an intervention that encouraged prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding.

“Our study provides the strongest evidence to date that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding makes kids smarter,” said Kramer, a Professor of Pediatrics and of Epidemiology & Biostatistics in the McGill University Faculty of Medicine and lead investigator in the study.

The children’s cognitive ability was assessed by IQ tests administered by the children’s pediatricians and by their teachers’ ratings of their academic performance in reading, writing, mathematics and other subjects.

“Although breastfeeding initiation rates have increased substantially during the last 30 years, much less progress has been achieved in increasing the exclusivity and duration of breastfeeding,” the authors conclude.