Michael W. Smith, MD, Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD
Jan. 17, 2002 (WebMD Medical News) According to some scientists, you're stuck with the brains you're born with and there's little you can do to make yourself smarter. In the "general factor of intelligence" theory, or "g," intelligence is inherited and unchanging. But other intelligence researchers strongly disagree. They say that you do have some control over how brainy you are.
To help settle the debate, psychologist Dennis Garlick, PhD, reviewed 124 studies of the mystery behind intelligence. His results are published in the January issue of Psychological Review.
Garlick, of the University of Sydney in Australia, says that his intensive look at existing research falls in favor of the shape-shifting brain model -- commonly known by brain experts as "neural plasticity." It suggests that intelligence is formed when the brain makes nerve connections in response to messages from the environment.
But Garlick doesn't think it's time to write off your parents' contribution to your intelligence, either. He suggests that genetic factors control your brain's ability to mold itself into the smart, clever person that you are. In other words, our brains differ in how quickly, and to what degree, they can make these new nerve connections.
And apparently the trick to maximizing our potential is to make these nerve links when we're young, because the opportunity ends at physical maturity, says Garlick. He supports this notion with research showing that your ability to reason stops increasing over time.
This theory supports the notion that a bright kid will make a brainy adult.
"You could present a person with an IQ of 200 with the appropriate phenomena when they are 20 years old, after the critical learning period, and they would not have the capacity to adapt their brains to the new phenomena," Garlick writes. "This is also used to explain why children can learn other things easier as well, such as language."
And this research is more than just interesting. Garlick says that people of low IQ have more difficulty because their brains aren't able to bend as well to messages from the environment. He suggests that these children -- and adults -- could be better taught by presenting the information in a simpler manner and in stages, instead of all at once.
Feb 9, '02