Monday, December 6, 2010


I took my first IQ test in elementary school. I had already learned to read by watching Sesame Street and The Electric Company, so while my teacher was instructing my classmates how to sing the alphabet song, I was whisked into the coat closet with the teacher's aide to read, write, and play word games. Back then, before I learned the proper, socially unacceptable ways to escape feelings, reading was my refuge. Even the little pervert next door was fascinated that I could read at three years old. He used to pull soup cans and cereal boxes off the shelves to watch me read the labels.

Supposedly, IQ tests are developed in such a way as measures one's capacity to learn and think, rather than the amount of knowledge in one's head. Thus, your IQ score at age 5 should be the same as your IQ score at age 35. I'm not sure how they do this; perhaps my friend Susie can fill me in sometime. She develops IQ tests for a living. My personal experience tells me this is not the case, however. My IQ in elementary school was measured at 140. In high school it was 130. As an adult, it had dropped to 125.

Do we naturally get stupider as we age? I don't think so, although it's hard to dispute when I am driving down the street, in my car, frantically wondering where I left my car keys.

In my opinion, and Susie, correct me if I'm wrong, intelligence is a muscle. In school, it is exercised daily, challenged, stretched, warmed up and on the job. After schooling is completed, it atrophies and gathers dust. One can hardly expect it to lift the same amount of intellectual weight that it did in one's youth.

Even if you have a job that challenges your mental capacity, ask yourself just how much of each day you really spend exercising your brain, as opposed to attending meetings, walking down hallways, making copies, fantasizing about vacations, drinking coffee, loading the paper tray, pretending to listen to coworkers or customers, etc.

I still enjoy reading these days, but most of the time I'm too lazy to make it through a book. But I try to exercise my brain by asking questions. I am still curious about things, stupid little things like who decides what key a car's horn beeps in, and huge philosophical things like how regional accents develop or why we haven't all been sucked into a black hole yet.

Whenever one of those silly little ponderings enters my mind, I jot it down so I can look it up later when I get bored. Undoubtedly, when I die, some of those questions will be yet unanswered. I want the people who attend my funeral to find my jotting notebook, pick a question or two, and find out the answers for themselves. Maybe that little exercise will raise your IQ a few points.


Anonymous said...

Our brains are definitely a muscle. As we grow up, we're constantly bombarded by new things. We've got school, TV, and hobbies, for example. Most of our time is spent in these pursuits. Once we "grow up," for those of us who do, we settle into a comfort zone and relax. Then our brain-muscle atrophies. Frankly, I wouldn't worry about my measured IQ. What counts is if you are up to the job/task at hand in your life. Very few of us are actually insufficient, though many find life more challenging than before.

Just my $.02, but you got it for FREE.

Mike D.

Jonna said...

My brain probably gets more exercise than any other
muscle in my body, except maybe my tongue. Of course,
if I'd turn off the television, or at least change the
channel from Food Network, I'd raise my IQ!
Great post, Karen!

Susie Raiford said...

Your decreasing scores probably have more to do with a couple of issues.
1. a statistical phenomena called regression to the mean: If someone tests at an extreme end of the bell curve, their subsequent score will be closer to the mean.
2. IQ test construction: The very young version of IQ tests typically has fewer "subtests" (parts), the adolescent and adult versions have more. With fewer subtests, there is less of a chance for you to do poorly on one because fewer abilities are being sampled. As cognitive abilities become more well defined and differentiated, there are more chances to do poorly on one.
3. if you have a clinical condition such as a seizure disorder, some cognitive abilities can selectively start to decline.
As for intelligence being a muscle: recent research demonstrates IQ can actually be improved with working memory training. See . I suppose this is analogous to strength training a muscle. Also, there is a great deal of research to suggest that certain mental activities are associated with higher scores on cognitive tests even after other demographic variables such as socioeconomic status are taken into account.