CAN WE INCREASE OUR BRAIN POWER?
Wouldn’t it be nice to understand and remember more, to learn new skills and be more creative – to be, in a word, smarter? The good news is that we can. A new study shows that IQ, long thought to be unchangeable after early childhood, can in fact be raised – and not by a mere point or two. According to the study, IQ can rise by a whopping 21 points over four years – or, conversely, fall by 18. Twenty points is a “huge difference,” says Cathy Price of University College London, who led the research. “If an individual moved from an IQ of 110 to an IQ of 130, they’d go from being ‘average’ to ‘gifted’.”
The study demonstrated that changes in the participants’ IQ were linked to actual physical changes in the structure of their brains. In participants whose verbal IQ improved significantly, brain scans showed a corresponding change in an area of the brain that is responsible for reading and speaking. In participants whose non-verbal IQ rose, there was a change in an area of the brain that is associated with movement. In both cases, the changes had to do with the creation of new connections in the brain – the more connections, the higher the IQ.
So, how do we go about increasing our brain power? Some scientists believe that the answer may lie in improving short-term memory. In a surprising discovery, scientists at the University of Michigan recently found that short-term memory affects reasoning and problem-solving abilities. This suggests that short-term memory may play a greater role in intelligence than anyone previously suspected. If that’s the case, then memory training may be the surest path to a higher IQ. “There is some controversy over whether brain training can enhance cognition,” says Eric Kandel of Columbia University. “But if you really work on memory by, for instance, memorizing poetry, it probably improves some aspects of cognitive function.” This view is supported by psychologist Jason Chein of Temple University, who found that adults who trained on a complex memory task showed significant improvement in reading comprehension as well.
Memorizing lines of poetry may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but there are other ways of boosting IQ. It may seem strange, but a number of studies have found that practicing motor skills can improve cognitive ones. Aerobic exercise, for example, gives both the muscles and the brain a workout. Walking just 30 minutes a day stimulates the production of a substance in the brain which in turn promotes learning.
On the other hand, rest is beneficial too. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that napping not only restores brain power but also raises it. In one study, students were asked to learn the names of 120 faces they had never seen before. Those who took a 90-minute nap after learning the names remembered more names than those who hadn’t taken a nap. They also remembered more names than before their nap. Apparently, it isn’t necessary to read a 20-volume encyclopedia to be smarter. All you need to do is get some shut-eye, do aerobics or memorize a poem.
(Adapted from “Buff Your Brain”, Newsweek, January 1, 2012)
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