Adults can increase their IQ throughout life, but increasing overall intelligence may be even more valuable. Learn the specific steps you should take.
Table of Contents
The media is full of news about how to raise a child’s IQ.
Giving them music lessons, feeding them fish, or teaching them a second language are all proven ways to elevate IQ levels in children. (1)
But is it possible to increase your IQ once you’ve reached adulthood?
It was once thought that everyone was born with a set level of intelligence, but now we know that the human brain maintains the capacity to change throughout a lifetime. (2)
This means that you have the potential to increase your intelligence, and your IQ, at any age.
What Is IQ? How Is It Measured?
IQ, or intelligence quotient, is a comparison of your cognitive abilities to others of the same age. (3)
IQ testing as a tool to measure intelligence is not as straightforward as you might think.
IQ tests are designed to measure your general ability to solve problems and understand concepts, but it’s not an absolute measure of intelligence. (4)
Many experts consider IQ testing controversial since tests have built-in biases that put certain demographics at a disadvantage.
They also argue that the idea that intelligence can be captured in one number is misleading.
There are many theories that aim to define the various kinds of intelligence.
One of the most recent theories of intelligence that is popular with the public, but controversial among psychologists, is the theory of multiple intelligences as proposed by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner.
This theory suggests that there are 8 kinds of intelligence, as shown in this image.
So, while there are many kinds of intelligence, IQ tests measure just two: crystallized intelligence and fluid intelligence.
Crystallized intelligence refers to the knowledge and skills you’ve accumulated throughout your life.
Fluid intelligence encompasses your ability to reason and solve problems. (5)
Additionally, there is not just one IQ test, but many.
Here are the most common IQ tests in use today: (6)
- Cognitive Assessment System
- Differential Ability Scales
- Kaufman Tests
- Reynolds Intellectual Ability Scales
- Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale
- Wechsler Intelligence Scales
- Woodcock-Johnson Test of Cognitive Abilities
IQ vs Intelligence: Which Is More Important?
There are three main ways in which your overall intelligence is more important than your IQ.
1) First, while there is some correlation between high IQ and academic or career success, there are other factors deemed to be more important, such as motivation, mindset, creativity, emotional intelligence, social skills, attitude, resilience, and plain old hard work, common sense, and self-discipline. (7, 8)
2) Second, even if you take active measures to increase your IQ, IQ scores tend to stay stable over a lifetime, whereas it is possible to increase your intelligence and cognitive abilities fairly quickly and dramatically. (9)
3) And finally, a high IQ is no guarantee of success.
It’s not unusual for people with high IQs to struggle in life, while many with average IQs thrive.
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What Your IQ Test Score Means
So if IQ is not an absolute measure of your intelligence, what is the significance of your IQ score?
It only tells you where you stand compared to everyone else who has taken an IQ test.
A score of 100 is always the overall average score of all test participants. (10)
Nearly 70% of IQ test scores fall between 85 and 115, 15 points less or more than the average score.
And 95% of scores fall between 70 and 130.
Of the remaining 5%, half are below 70 and half are above 130.
A score below 70 generally indicates a learning disability, while a score over 130 puts you in the “gifted” category.
You can see below how IQ test score distribution forms a classic bell curve.
10 Proven Ways to Increase IQ
Even though IQ is not the definitive measure of intelligence, there are many reasons why you might want to increase your IQ score anyway.
You may need to take an IQ test as part of a job application.
You may enjoy the personal challenge or are interested in joining Mensa, a worldwide organization for people of above average intelligence.
If you are actively working to upgrade your intelligence, your IQ score can help you determine if your efforts are paying off.
Here’s a look at activities proven to boost general intelligence and IQ scores in adults.
1. Get Physical Exercise
Physical exercise promotes the flow of oxygen, glucose, and nutrients to your brain.
Brain plasticity is associated with increased intelligence and larger brain volume. (12)
Even as little as one 30-minute exercise session will enhance brain plasticity. (13)
A study that involved over one million young men linked physical fitness with higher IQ. (14)
2. Play Dual N-Back
Dual n-back is the first brain exercise proven to raise a player’s general level of intelligence.
By increasing working memory capacity, it can boost your IQ. (15)
If you want to try dual n-back, there are several sites that let you play for free or you can download one of the many dual n-back apps.
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3. Play Chess
If dual n-back isn’t to your liking, take up chess.
Chess increases concentration, problem-solving skills, and stimulates both sides of the brain. (17)
It gives your working memory a good workout and can increase IQ. (18)
4. Continue Lifelong Education
If you are a teen or young adult, stay in school.
Students who stay in school longer have higher IQs.
By exposing you to new information and new problems to be solved, schooling raises IQ by several points a year. (19)
Researchers have found that for each year of education completed, there is an IQ gain of approximately 3.5 points. (20)
Continuing your education does not necessarily mean continuing your formal education.
Being open to new experiences and seeking out new things to do and learn is a personality trait associated with higher intelligence. (21)
You might want to resume any music training you started as a child.
The benefits of visual arts programs are equally impressive.
Art lessons improve brain plasticity, fluid intelligence, IQ, and attention in both adults and children. (23)
5. Have a Mentally Challenging Career
Having a career that involves complex relationships, elaborate systems, or solving difficult problems will help keep you mentally sharp.
When a group of 250 middle-aged adults was followed for six years, those in mentally demanding occupations performed better on cognitive tests. (24)
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One study found that those who meditated using brainwave training experienced a remarkable 23% increase in IQ. (29)
7. Try Neurofeedback
Biofeedback is a technique that teaches you to manage functions such as heart rate and brainwave activity that are normally not under your control.
Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback that works by learning to alter brainwave patterns.
When adults and children with attention deficit disorder (ADD) received two neurofeedback sessions per week, the average IQ gain was a substantial 12 points. (30)
There are now personal neurofeedback devices you can use at home.
While there’s no guarantee that using one will increase your IQ, these devices can help to put you in the same brainwave state as meditation. (31)
8. Do the Mensa Workout
You need to score in the 98th percentile on an approved IQ test to join Mensa.
But anyone can take Mensa’s 30-minute brain workout.
You can try it for free online at Mensa Workout.
9. Feed Your Brain the Right Fuel
If you want your brain to work its best, feed it high-powered fuel.
Some of the best foods for the brain include berries, walnuts, avocado, eggs, olive oil, coconut oil, dark chocolate, cold water fish, and turmeric.
And make sure the bulk of your diet consists of unprocessed foods.
Eating junk food has been shown to lower IQ in children and may do the same in adults. (32)
One huge study of one million students found that eating a diet free of preservatives and artificial dyes and flavorings resulted in an impressive 14% boost in IQ. (33)
10. Take Fish Oil
There are many supplements that have a positive effect on brain health and function, but only one so far has been shown to raise IQ in adults — fish oil.
Researchers in Scotland followed study participants for over 50 years, from childhood through their senior years. (34)
One study group took fish oil and one did not.
At age 11, both groups had the same average IQ of 100.
But by the age of 64, the group that did not take fish oil had lost 5 IQ points, while the fish oil group had gained 6 IQ points over their childhood scores.
6 Lifestyle Factors to Avoid That Can Lower IQ
There’s little point in undertaking the IQ-enhancing measures we’ve just covered if other lifestyle habits are sabotaging your efforts.
These brain-impairing activities may cause your IQ to drop over time.
1. Don’t Smoke
Research shows that smoking can lower your IQ by 7 points.
Young men who smoke are likely to have lower IQs than their non-smoking peers.
A study published in 2010 found that the average IQ for a young, non-smoking male was about 101, while the average IQ of a young male who smoked was 94.
Additionally, smoking more lowered IQ further.
Those who smoked more than a pack a day had IQs of around 90. (35)
2. Stop Shorting Yourself on Sleep
Insomnia affects roughly half of all adults. (36)
Regularly not getting enough sleep undermines the long-term health and function of your brain.
It can also do some serious damage to your IQ.
According to Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Centre, every hour short of the recommended eight hours per night can knock one point off your IQ. (37)
They’ve issued a report that pulls no punches.
It concludes that regularly losing two hours of sleep per night can result in a person with an average IQ becoming “borderline retarded.”
3. Drink Alcohol in Moderation
Drinking in moderation promotes overall health and longevity.
It can also protect your brain and keep you mentally sharp as you age. (38)
Alcoholic beverages are regularly consumed in the three countries with the most centenarians — France, Italy, and Japan.
Seniors who drink moderately decrease their risk of dementia by up to 60%. (39)
But unsurprisingly, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is very detrimental to your brain and can measurably reduce IQ. (40)
4. Avoid Fluoride
Most toothpastes and tap water in the United States contain added fluoride for the prevention of tooth decay.
But this is considered a highly controversial practice since fluoride is a known neurotoxin linked to attention disorders, Alzheimer’s, autism, depression, and nervous system degeneration. (41)
Dozens of studies correlate fluoride with reduced IQ in both adults and children. (42)
It’s not hard to find toothpastes that are fluoride-free.
You can check whether your local water department adds fluoride to your water with this interactive map on the Centers for Disease Control’s website.
If it does, consider getting a filter that removes fluoride.
Note that most filters do not effectively remove fluoride — even some of those that claim they do.
5. Stop Multitasking
Most people multitask in an attempt to get more done.
But the evidence is clear that multitasking makes you less productive.
Switching back and forth between tasks can cause a 40% loss in productivity. (43)
Interrupting one task to suddenly focus on another results in reduced attention span, ability to learn, and mental performance. (44)
It’s mentally exhausting.
It increases stress and frustration which makes you work harder to get less done.
Multitasking can temporarily reduce IQ by an alarming 15 points. (45)
6. Avoid Loneliness
Many exceptionally intelligent people are introverts and loners and enjoy spending time alone.
But it is possible to take being alone too far.
A review of studies found that loneliness can have a significant negative impact on intelligence, including IQ test scores. (46)
How to Take a Certified IQ Test
According to Mensa, if you want to know your true IQ score, there are only two legitimate ways to determine your IQ.
You can take a standard IQ test under the guidance of a licensed psychologist. (47)
Or you can take a supervised, standardized test organized by Mensa.
If you live in the US, you can check to see if Mensa is offering a test near you.
If you live outside of the US, check out their list of international Mensa organizations to find out how to take a test near you.
Beware of Bogus Online IQ Tests
Free online tests of all kinds almost always have hidden agendas.
IQ tests are no different.
Most commonly, free online tests are used to gather data that is then sold to advertisers.
I contacted Mensa.org about this and they confirmed that the internet is rife with bogus IQ tests and that legitimate tests can be administered only by someone with professional training.
Mensa warns that some bogus tests lead you to believe that they are sanctioned by Mensa, but they are not. (48)
If you doubt the value of free online IQ tests, this anecdote may change your mind.
Dean Burnett, PhD, a neuroscientist, author, and science writer for The Guardian, set out to determine the validity of online IQ tests.
He took four online IQ tests and selected his answers at random. (49)
His suggested IQ scores were 133, 128, 138, and 140!
How to Increase IQ and Intelligence: Take the Next Step
IQ is a measure of two specific kinds of intelligence — crystallized and fluid intelligence.
There are steps you can take to increase IQ, but even if you manage to gain a few IQ points, that doesn’t necessarily make you smarter in ways that matter for a rewarding, successful life.
So there is little need to stress over your IQ score.
We recommend you focus on improving your overall intelligence, brain health, and brain fitness instead.