Adults can increase their IQ throughout life, but increasing overall intelligence may be even more valuable. Learn the specific steps you should take.
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 your own age. (3)
IQ testing as a tool to measure intelligence is not as straightforward as you may have been led to believe.
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 3 main ways in which your overall intelligence is more important than your IQ.
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, attitude, and plain old hard work, common sense, and self-discipline. (7)
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)
And finally, a high IQ is no guarantee of success.
It’s not unusual for people with high IQs to struggle in life, while those 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 does your IQ score mean?
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.
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, you may want to know 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)
Related on Be Brain Fit —
Top 15 Brain Exercises to Keep Your Mind Sharp
Biohacker Dave Asprey claims that he gained an impressive 2.75 IQ points for every hour of dual n-back training he performed. (16)
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 instead.
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.
Because it exposes you to new information and new problems to be solved, going to school raises IQ by several points a year. (19)
Researchers have shown that for each year of schooling completed, there is an IQ gain of approximately 3.5 points. (20)
Continuing your education does not necessarily mean just formal education.
Being open to new experiences and seeking out new things to do and learn is a personality trait associated with higher IQ. (21)
You might want to resume the 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
Careers that involve complex relationships, elaborate systems, or solving difficult problems help to keep you mentally sharp.
When a group of 250 middle-aged adults was followed for six years, those in complex occupations were found to perform better on cognitive tests. (24)
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 measuring 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)
Related on Be Brain Fit —
Neurofeedback: Train Your Brain Waves to Treat Anxiety, ADHD & More
There are now personal neurofeedback devices you can use at home.
While there’s no guarantee that using one will increase your IQ, it can 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. Eat a Diet Rich in Unprocessed Food
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. (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.
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6 Lifestyle Factors That Can Lower Your IQ
There’s little point in undertaking the IQ-enhancing measures we’ve just covered if other areas of your lifestyle are sabotaging your efforts.
The brain-impairing activities below 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 further lowered IQ.
Those who smoked more than a pack a day had IQs 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.
Related on Be Brain Fit —
Mental Effects of Chronic Insomnia (+ how to stop it)
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.
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.” (37)
3. Drink Alcohol in Moderation
Drinking in moderation promotes health and longevity and can 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 can 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 a highly controversial practice since fluoride is a neurotoxin linked to ADHD, Alzheimer’s, autism, depression, and nervous system degeneration. (41)
Dozens of studies correlate fluoride with reduced IQ in both adults and children. (42)
Related on Be Brain Fit —
Fluoride As a Neurotoxin: 9 Ways It Harms Your Brain
You can check with your local water department to find out whether your water contains added fluoride.
If it does, consider getting a filter that removes fluoride.
Note that most filters do not.
One of the few water filters that removes fluoride is the Big Berkey water filter.
5. Stop Multitasking
Most people multitask in an attempt to get more done.
But the evidence is very 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, learning, and performance. (44)
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 aloneness 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
If you want to know your true IQ score, according to Mensa, there are only 2 legitimate ways to determine your IQ.
First, 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.
Beware of Bogus Online IQ Tests
Free online tests of all kinds almost always have hidden agendas and IQ tests are no different.
Most commonly, free online tests are used to gather data which 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.
Dr. Dean Burnett is a neuroscientist and science writer for the Guardian.
He took four online IQ tests and selected his answers at random. (49)
Yet his suggested IQ scores were 133, 128, 138, and 140!
How to Increase IQ: Take the Next Step
IQ is a measure of two specific kinds of intelligence — crystallized and fluid intelligence.
There are measures 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.
Instead, focus on improving your overall intelligence, brain health, and brain fitness.
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