The Complicated Issue of Children's Intelligence: A New Study Shows it May be More Changeable than we Thought!
We all know that school can be a demanding time for children, and want to make it as easy as possible for them to succeed.
There are so many hints and tips floating around for parents that it can be difficult to figure out what’s what. Between plying them with vitamins and fish oils, banning video games and learning second languages the list of suggestions can be overwhelming.
This is before the massive argument over “nature versus nurture” and whether intelligence can be influenced by anything we do at all! As scientists continue to tease out these questions, an interesting study was published this month which is worth paying attention to.
Psychologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have attempted to figure out whether intelligence levels can be increased by a range of interventions including preschool and iron supplements. They checked the effect this had on 985 children at age 3, 5 and 8 and took into account different kinds of intelligence like verbal, memory and reasoning.
Remarkably, the study found that environmental interventions (changes made in the school or home) resulted in only temporary gains in intelligence. After intelligence increased slightly, after a while it would return to its original level.
Researchers have termed this temporary increase “the fadeout effect”. They’ve concluded that you can’t just change one small aspect and expect massive long- term changes. Intelligence will rise to meet any new challenges and when unchallenged, will subside. They also found that high intelligence at one age may not necessarily predict intelligence at another age.
What Does THis Mean?
So, is there a point in trying to improve intelligence? Do studies like this mean children’s intelligence level is set in stone before they reach school? Not so, according to one of the researchers at the University of California. "I believe it is still a good thing to intervene and try to change the trajectory for these children,” Dr Protzko said in a statement.
While one small change may not have a massive influence on intelligence in the long run, the study still demonstrated that intelligence levels can be increased, at least temporarily. This study also reinforces the view that the social and home environment is just as important to brain development and intelligence as the school environment.
So WHat Helps Children's Intelligence?
Now that we know intelligence can be influenced, at least to an extent, it is important to ask what decisions we can make to best serve children’s developing minds. Although many tactics have been suggested, here we will summarise a few that have received the most academic attention.
So what strategies should caregivers and early educators be using?
It is important that early educators ensure they are bringing spatial thinking to life. This requires teaching unusual shapes and how they apply to everyday life. An excellent way of doing this is introducing maps to the classroom.
In the home, caregivers can further build on this by providing children with books exploring the nature of shapes and space or by discussing the spatial- relevance of day- to- day chores i.e. how can we get all the groceries to fit into one bag? How will we get the sheet to fit on the duvet?
Reading is an area which can be massively influenced by the home environment. The reasons for this are obvious- if books are provided in the home children are dramatically more likely to have a higher reading age than if not. Similarly, if children see parents kicking back with a book for enjoyment then they are far more likely to do the same.
Paired reading is an excellent strategy to improve literacy. It involves a parent or educator reading alongside the child and has excellent scientific backing!
Some methods included in paired reading are providing smiles and encouragement, correcting mispronounced words without criticising and discussing the content of the story.
Such methods can reap great rewards and have been promoted by The National Literacy Trust.
Scientists have found that we are more likely to retain the things we’ve learned if we get some sleep afterwards. This isn’t limited to night but even to naps!
Interestingly, sleep restriction also has a lasting effect on our intelligence. A study conducted in Canada found that kids who did not get enough sleep as toddlers performed poorer on developmental tests when they were six years old. This proved true even for kids who received more sleep after age 3. It therefore seems that early infancy is a super important time to ensure kids are getting their Zs!
Toddlers fed diets filled with salads and fruit have higher IQs than those with diets full of sugar and refined food. Scientists at the University of Bristol were so impressed by their findings that they believe a healthy diet in our younger years can improve intelligence in the long- run. Children’s diets were measured throughout childhood with IQ measured at 8 and a half years old. It seems as if a good diet can go a long way to boost growing kids minds!
It is important to note that intelligence and children’s school performance isn’t everything. It’s much more important to have confident and happy kids. Following these tips though, may give your kids a better start at school and are overall, positive lifestyle changes to consider.
Close, R. (2001). Parental involvement and literacy achievement. National Literacy Trust. Doi: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0000/0423/Parental_involvement_2001.pdf
Kurdziel L, Duclos K, and Spencer R. 2013. Sleep spindles in midday naps enhance learning in preschool children. PNAS (epub ahead of print) doi: 10.1073/pnas.1306418110. - See more at: http://www.parentingscience.com/intelligence.html#sthash.5s6ONZgw.dpuf
Northstone, K., Joinson, C., Emmett, P., Ness, A., & Paus, T. (2011). Are dietary patterns in childhood associated with IQ at 8 years of age? A population-based cohort study. Journal of epidemiology and community health, jech-2010.
Protzko, J. (2015). Does the Raising Iq/Raising G Distinction Explain the Fadeout Effect?. Raising G Distinction Explain the Fadeout Effect.