IQ: The Eternal Debate of Nature vs. Nurture

IQ: The Eternal Debate of Nature vs. Nurture

Brain Training May Help You Acquire Skills to be a Better Learner

by Terri Clark, Nov. 2012

If you were “mathphobic” in school, you’ve no doubt worried that your child would be too.  After all, the ability to understand complex equations and memorize and apply formulas is as likely to be passed down to your kids as that family heirloom quilt, right?  Not exactly.

The first thing you need to know is that anyone’s ability to do math is based on the strength of his or her IQ, which is simply a measurement of your cognitive skills.  These are things like working memory (e.g. holding a number in your brain long enough to use it in the next step), logic and reasoning (e.g. “obviously the radius can’t be a negative number…”), and visual processing (e.g. deciding which side of the triangle is the longest).  When one skill is weak, say, short-term memory needed to recall a formula, the other skills can’t always compensate.  Knowing how to apply the formula is great, but if you can’t remember what the formula is, that understanding won’t do you any good – and vice versa.

Can someone with a high IQ have a learning disability?

Absolutely.   IQ is different than knowledge.  While knowledge is WHAT you learn (that math formula, historical facts, Spanish vocabulary words, etc.), IQ is more a measurement of HOW you learn.  The stronger your cognitive skills as a whole, the higher your IQ.  But the key phrase here is “as a whole,” because someone with one weak cognitive skill could still have a high IQ due to the compensating strength of the other brain skills.  Here are three examples:

  • A brilliant child with ADHD – strong in all cognitive skills except sustained and selective attention.
  • A self-made millionaire who is dyslexic – strong in most cognitive skills but weak in phonemic awareness and sound blending.
  • A straight-A teen with dyscalculia (who purposely takes only the required math classes) – strong in all cognitive skills except visual processing. 

Can you raise your IQ?

Yes!  A brain is only as strong as its weakest link, and therefore an IQ score is only as high as the sum of its cognitive skills.  So how do you make someone smarter?  Give them stronger tools to learn!  In other words, strengthen their brain skills.  How do you do it?  First, test to determine the weakest skills, then train the brain to strengthen those skills.  That might mean increasing the number of connections in the brain, training it to use the fastest and most effective routes to transport and process information, and/or helping the brain repair itself.  The key components of a cognitive skills program are that it be customized for the person, one-on-one (rather than group setting or just computer-based training) and scientifically proven.

So just what kind of results are we talking about?  Independent studies of one national brain training program (not to be confused with tutoring, which teaches facts) have shown that its intensive cognitive skills program increases IQ by an average of 15 points.  Chalk one up for nurture.

What else influences IQ?

That’s not to say that nature doesn’t play a role; there seems to be plenty of evidence supporting the idea that genetics has a direct influence on IQ scores.  But studies on identical twins raised in different environments have proven that IQ can’t possibly be determined by chromosomes alone.  One’s physical, socio-economic and educational environment can certainly shape IQ.

It’s not likely that any scientist would argue the sole influence of genetics (or environment) when it comes to IQ, especially now that we know that the brain is capable of growing new neurons, rerouting around damaged parts of the brain and essentially reversing dementia in some cases.  Thanks to fMRIs (functional magnetic resonance imaging), we now have a noninvasive technique for measuring brain function.  Recent studies of patients with traumatic brain injuries, age-related cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, dyslexia and ADHD have uncovered new understanding of the brain’s  restorative capabilities.   And knowing that the brain’s “plasticity” makes it capable of change at any age opens new doors for external influences on IQ.

The Future of IQ

Someday, we may be able to credit a magic pill for the uniform genius of the human race.  But for now, the reality of raising IQ is counted in sessions, not tablets.  Just as a customized workout regimen will strengthen your body, a customized brain training program will strengthen your cognitive skills.  Both offer results if you’re willing to put in the work.  The only difference is that you’ll see the scale go down and the IQ score go up.

So in the debate of “Nature vs. Nurture” on the impact on IQ, we’ll call causation a draw.  Genetics and environment both make contributions.  But no matter what we credit with the IQ we have, we can look to one-on-one brain training for the IQ we’re capable of having.  So forget the heirloom quilt; the best gift you can give to your kids or yourself is to strengthen the skills needed to be a better learner.  Now who’s the genius?


terri clark

Terri Clark is the owner/director of LearningRx of Melbourne.  To schedule a cognitive skills assessment, contact her at (321) 727-3996.

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