Science Based Facts About Human Intelligence

Human Intelligence.

Intelligence is our greatest gift, yet many of us don’t know how to use it to its full potential. Everyone is more or less intelligent, unless they suffer from an intellectual disability that leads to a significant intelligence deficit.

Human intelligence is a very well studied topic. Yet, there are many myths surrounding it. There are things about the way intelligence works that are still largely unknown. Even so, scientists know quite a few things about our greatest asset as humans.

In this article we list some fun, evidence-based facts about our intelligence.

1. IQ Tests Do Not Measure Intelligence in Absolute Terms

Contrary to what many people believe, intelligence questionnaires are not an unequivocal indication of a person’s intelligence. They measure intelligence in relative terms.

At the time of taking these tests, factors such as mood, diet or fatigue can impair performance. A study that included more than 100,000 participants showed that measuring intelligence quotient (IQ) by a singular, standardized test is highly misleading.

2. It May Not Be One-Dimensional

According to Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI), human beings possess not one but several intelligences. We all have several intelligences depending on different types of problems that we have to solve.

There are up to 9 types of intelligence according to this theory:

  1. Musical-rhythmic
  2. Visual-spatial
  3. Verbal-linguistic
  4. Logical-mathematical
  5. Bodily-kinesthetic
  6. Interpersonal
  7. Intrapersonal
  8. Naturalistic
  9. Existential

Since its formulation, MI theory has been seriously questioned. There are other, more accepted explanatory models of intelligence. These models distinguish between various groups of cognitive abilities, while not denying the existence of a basic form of unitary intelligence.

3. Intelligence Is Stable Over Time

Practicing always helps to improve and master a certain skill, such as playing chess, or learn about a complex subject. However, this does not mean that the IQ increases as a result.

We can develop skills and acquire new knowledge throughout our lives, but we won’t be able to modify our intelligence too much. It tends to remain more or less stable across the course of our life.

4. There Is No Single Gene Responsible

The belief that intelligence is determined by one or more genes is not uncommon. This corresponds to a very unitary vision of intelligence. But intelligence, itself, is nothing more than a social construct. That means that it is not possible to find a single biological factor behind it.

Rather, it would be the result of a set of circumstances, related to the development of different brain areas. As well as their effectiveness when working, given exposure to environmental factors that influence IQ.

5. Person With The Highest IQ

The smartest living person on record is Terrence Tao, with an IQ 230.

He is a mathematician, and he is working at UCLA. He is the youngest person to receive a professor position at the institution when he was 24 years old.

To date, the person who has been attributed the highest IQ score in all history is William Sidis (1898-1944). In 1933, he took an intelligence test and, based on later estimates, he scored between 250 and 300 IQ points.

6. Mind Games Do Not Increase IQ

There is a general notion that games that use ingenuity, such as Sudoku puzzles, crossword puzzles or similar games, increase intelligence.

That is not the case. Not by doing 20 Sudoku puzzles in a row you will magically see your IQ increase by 10 points.

However, these types of games are quite useful for people who want to pass the time testing their intelligence. In addition, it is especially recommended for those who suffer from some type of dementia or brain damage.

7. Breastfeeding Slightly Improves Intelligence

Subtle differences in IQ have been found between people who were breastfed as babies compared to those who weren’t.

According to various research, in some cases breastfeeding would result in an IQ higher by 3 to 5 points.

8. Processed Food

Diet as an environmental factor seems to influence IQ.

Diets that include foods that have been processed with added artificial flavors have been shown to decrease performance when answering intelligence questionnaires.

9. Savant Syndrome

The Savant syndrome is a condition in which a person who suffers from a mental disability has remarkable intellectual talent. Sometimes, it does not have a practical application. For example, rapid calculation or other abilities linked to memory.

Among these skills you can find photographic memory, ability to learn multiple languages, or remember all the tiles that make up a street.

Many savants have their special abilities from birth. However, some may become savants due to having suffered some type of head trauma. A trauma to an area of a brain that instead of causing a serious clinical symptom, gives them outstanding intellectual ability.

10. Brain Plasticity

Intelligence is a construct that remains more or less stable throughout life. Still, this does not mean that the brain cannot modify its structure or produce new neurons. The process by which new neurons are formed in the brain is called neurogenesis.

Until relatively recently, it was argued that we were born with all the neurons we were ever going to have. But research shows that is not the case. Brain plasticity is the ability of our nervous system to change its activity in response to stimuli. Basically, our brain had the ability to reorganize its structure, functions, or neural connections. Although these changes are very subtle, they affect human behavior.

11. Myth of the Mozart Effect

If you do a quick search on YouTube for classical music you will find many videos that promise to boost intelligence.

This is because, according to the Mozart effect, listening to classical music, especially Mozart, improves memory and concentration. There are also claims that listening to it while pregnant will increase the IQ of the future baby. This is simply not true.

Still, listening to music you find engaging will have benefits to your well-being. Simply because compared to something like sitting in silence, the brain finds it stimulating.

12. We Don’t Use 10% of Our Brain

The idea that we only use 10% of our brain is very common but misleading. Interestingly, it originated in the 1890s from the theories of Harvard psychologist Boris Sidis, the father of child prodigy William Sidis (see 5).

Yet this is not the case. Using neuroimaging techniques, it is possible to see that brain activity is clearly higher than a mere 10%, even while asleep.

13. Flynn Effect

The Flynn effect is the rise in IQ, continuously and year by year, seen in most countries of the world. Especially those who have jumped on the bandwagon of socioeconomic development.

This is associated with better nutrition, accompanied by smaller families, as well as improvements in educational systems and living in healthier environments.

14. Dehydration Affects Intelligence

Being dehydrated doesn’t lower intelligence in a strict sense of the word. But it does make us perform less efficiently when solving problems of any kind.

If you dehydrate just 2%, you will have difficulties to carry out tasks that require attention, psychomotor skills and working memory.


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