What we call modern “civilization” is seven billion people coexisting—often grumpily—on a resource-shrinking planet. The future often seems dystopian: will we poison ourselves, blow each other up, starve pathetically, die of thirst, bake to extinction via solar radiation, be annihilated by epidemics, or simply slaughter ourselves door-to-door, like Rwandans or Bosnians, for imbecilic racial or ideological reasons?
How can we avoid these nightmares? Why are we afflicted? Couldn’t we circumvent them all… if we were just… Smarter? Wouldn’t the world be a safer, healthier place… if we were all… mentally… Brilliant?
130 Ways to Boost Humanity’s Brainpower (Part I)
Let’s elevate Global IQ! Intelligent people are (generally) less impulsive, less violent, less criminal, and stronger in problem-solving abilities. What if our average IQ jumped from 100 to the equivalent of 130? At that level, we’d all be as clever, wise, and resourceful as today’s Ivy League graduate. Plus, with the bell curve leaping up two standard deviations, the number of “geniuses” (IQ 145+) would skyrocket to 1.05 billion, and the planet would be nearly crime-free due to few remaining in the “danger zone” of 80-90 IQ where the preponderance of offenders dwell.
In a 130 IQ world, staggering inventions would tsunami daily out of patent offices into the marketplace. There’d be a Chronic Intelligence Explosion, an Organic Singularity. International dilemmas that today seem brain-numbingly difficult would be solved easily in a 130 IQ world, gleefully mastered like children’s crossword puzzles.
Can we do this? Can we boost the populace’s global IQ by 30%? Is it actually possible?
Yes, I believe so. IQ has already risen 15 points per person in the USA since 1950, almost three points per decade, propelled by advances in health and education.
Some might say that our intelligence is limited by biology. I disagree. Experts assert that only 50% of IQ is based on genetics. Environment determines the remaining half. Together, we have the ability to create an IQ-enriching habitat that will substantially enlarge our IQs. Plus, our increasing skill at genetic engineering and in developing pharmaceutical “smart drugs” will push IQ up even further.
Neurologists and other researchers have discovered myriad factors that elevate or decimate intelligence. PubMed.gov—the website of the USA’s National Institutes of Health and National Library of Medicine—lists 12,708 research studies that analyzed what makes us stupid or smart. I propose that we utilize this data at home, in the schools, on the Internet, and via government sanctions and support. Together, let’s lift up our minds and create beautiful brain architecture inside every skull.
With a little research, I’ve compiled 130+ ways to elevate global IQ, divided into six categories. In this article, I’ll introduce some of the most significant factors. (All the rest will be included in a new book* I’m currently working on.)
Examine these ideas carefully and you’ll discover multiple ways you can biggie-up your own brain, your friends’ and families’ noggins, and especially, the next generation’s.
Pre-Natal & Natal
Full Term - Babies delivered at 40+ weeks have bigger heads and bigger brains, and enjoy an average 4.9 points higher IQ than premature infants, reports a 1994 study conducted by the Henry Ford Health Services Center, in Detroit, Michigan.
Gestational Exercise - Pregnant women who exercise 30 minutes a day can increase their baby’s IQ by 8 points, claims Richard E. Nisbett, author of Intelligence and How to Get It.
Omega 3 - Adding Omega 3 oils into Mom’s bloodstream will add 7.55 points to their Verbal IQ, suggests a 2008 UK study from Southampton General Hospital.
Iodine Deficiency & Supplementation - Expectant mothers who received iodine supplementation in geographical areas that had inadequate iodine in the diet elevated their children’s IQs by 12.45 IQ points. Children born 3.5 years after supplementation began received a boost of 17.25 points. The study was conducted in 2005 by Tianjin Medical University. The World Health Organization labels iodine deficiency the “single greatest preventable cause of mental retardation”—it causes cretinism and goiters.
Pesticides - A 2011 UC Berkeley study indicates that high prenatal (and postnatal) exposure to organophosphate pesticides caused a deficit of 7.0 IQ points.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (Heavy Alcohol Exposure) - Children afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome have an average IQ of 75, notes a 2009 study from the University of Bergen (Norway)
Moderate Prenatal Alcohol Exposure - Gestating women who imbibe two alcoholic drinks per day hamper their child’s IQ with a 7 point loss, claims a 1990 University of Washington study.
Cigarette Smoking - A 1996 University of Mons Hainaut, Belgium, study of women who smoked during pregnancy, concludes, alarmingly, “we found a difference of more than 15 IQ points in favor of the children of nonsmoking mothers.” A 2010 Estonian study of prenatal smoking impact by their National Institute for Health Development found a 3.3 point IQ deficit. A 2005 study by Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark, recorded a 6.2 IQ point difference. Other researchers have contested these claims.
Hydrocarbons (smog) - A 2009 Columbia University study revealed that NYC children prenatally exposed to air pollution suffered a 4.31 IQ loss. Children examined in a 2010 Columbia study in Krakow, Poland, showed a 3.8 point IQ loss.
Cocaine Exposure - A Drexel University study in 2008 indicated that boys prenatally-exposed to cocaine had lower IQs at 4, 6, and 9 years of age.
Maternal Stress (Elevated Cortisol) - A 2009 study of 832 children at UC San Francisco concluded that children exposed to elevated cortisol levels in the womb, caused by maternal stress, experienced an average verbal IQ loss of 3.83 points.
Valproate (anti-epileptic drug) Exposure - Children natal-exposed to Valproate had IQ scores up to 9 points lower than children exposed to other anti-epileptic medications, notes a 2009 Emory University study.
Excess Mercury - Reports vary, but a 2005 Harvard School of Public Health study concluded that excessive prenatal intake of mercury in fish can cost children up to 1.5 points in IQ. Other reports have been inconclusive.
Twins? - Multiple children that share a womb are at risk of receiving suboptimal nutrition for their developing brains, with adverse neurobiological effects. Heavier monozygotic twins have a verbal IQ that is up to 7.5 points higher than the lighter twin. Differentials undoubtedly increase with triplets, quadruplets, etc.
Teen Moms - The offspring of adolescent mothers scored 4.0 points lower on IQ tests, claims a 2009 University of Pittsburgh study. The children—studied at age 6—had a smaller average head circumference than kids of adult mothers.
Artificial Wombs - A futuristic option to safeguard fetus intelligence is Artificial Wombs. These contraptions are still a few decades away, but imagine: fetuses would be safe inside them, sheltered from potential chemical abuse, fed nourishing amounts of Omega-3, “exercised” regularly in rolling motions, and delivered without danger at a large healthy size, perhaps ten or twelve pounds. Plus, there’d be no sensory deprivation—as opponents fear—they’d be sung to, and cooed at, by recordings of their parents’ voices.
Parent Licenses - Defining parenthood as a privilege that needs to be earned, not a guaranteed natural right, would do wonders for global IQ. If women who are destined to damage their baby’s cognitive abilities—because they drink alcohol excessively, chain-smoke, or ingest brain-damaging drugs—were deprived of childbearing opportunities, it would elevate global IQ. If it’s illegal to smash a person’s head against a wall, subjecting them to brain damage, why isn’t it illegal to flood the noggin of a fetus with elements that cripple cognition?
Breech Birth - Males born via breech birth have approximately a 7 point lower IQ than boys who were born in cephalic presentation, claims a 1999 University of Aarhus, Denmark, study.
Vacuum? Elective C-Section? - A 1979 German study published in Z Geburtshilfe Perinatol indicated that children “spontaneously born” had an IQ of 108.7. This was significantly lower than children born aided by a c-section (114.4), forceps (116.6) or vacuum (117.7). Another study, in 1991 from Huron Road Hospital, in East Cleveland, Ohio, revealed that IQs of children born via emergency c-section after prolonged labor were “significantly lower” than those delivered after elective c-section with no labor.
Iodine Deficiency - Children who do not receive sufficient quantities of the 53rd element can suffer 12.2 point IQ drop, according to data compiled in 2002 by Tianjin Medical University. The World Health Organization labels iodine deficiency the “single greatest preventable cause of mental retardation.”
Lead Poisoning - A 2011 University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey study of children in Chennai, India, reported a decrease of up to 9 IQ points. Before Egypt eliminated leaded gasoline [pdf], the average child there lost 4.25 IQ points. A 2001 School of Public Health at Albany Rensselaer study estimated the cost of lead overexposure as a “permanent loss of IQ of approximately 5 to 7 points.”
Malnutrition - A 2003 UCLA study of 1,559 children on the island of Mauritius revealed that the subjects (3 years old when surveyed) had a 15.3 IQ deficit at the age of 11.
Iron Deficiency - After anemic children in India were given iron supplementation, 88.6% of them experienced IQ gains, with 51.4% gaining more than 10 points. The 2010 study was by the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, in Chandrigahr, India.
Pesticides - A 2011 UC Berkeley study indicates that high postnatal (and postnatal) exposure to organophosphate pesticides caused a deficit of 7 IQ points.
Domestic Violence - A 2003 Boston University study noted that “children exposed to high levels of domestic violence have IQs that are, on average, 8 points lower than unexposed children.”
Breast-feeding - A 2010 Bristol, UK, study reported an increase of 5.49 IQ points in children who were breast-fed for three months. A 2006 Brown University study also recorded a 5.0 IQ rise, in low birth weight infants who received breast milk. Other studies have denied any breast-feeding benefits.
Manganese Poisoning - A ten-fold increase of the 25th element in children’s drinking water led to a 2.4 point IQ loss, notes a 2011 University of Quebec at Montreal study.
Phenobarbital (for children) - Children treated for febrile seizures with phenobarbital had their IQs reduced by 3.71 points, reports a 1999 University of Washington study.
Zinc Deficiency - Children aged 6-11 with zinc deficiency showed “marked improvement in memory after supplementation,” claims a 2011 report from Madras Medical College in India.
Indoor Mold - A 2011 Jagiellonian University Medical College study, in Krakow, Poland, reports that young children living in mold-contaminated homes had “tripled the risk of low IQ scoring.”
Maternal Depression - A 2010 Cambridge University study concluded that boys, but not girls, had their IQs lowered if their mothers experienced postpartum depression. A 2001 Cardiff University study reported “the children of women who were depressed at three months postpartum had significantly lower IQ scores.” A 2004 University of Pittsburgh study noticed an “increase in caregiver depression was related to decline in IQ scores.”
Acupuncture Supplement - Mentally retarded infants in Shanxi, China, were treated with needles and other therapies for six months. Half the subjects increased their IQ by 15 points. The 1994 study was conducted by the Second People’s Hospital of Yangquan.
Protozoan Diarrhea - Children with a history of protozoan diarrhea (i.e., giardial) end up with a “significantly lower IQ,” claims a 2011 study of 116 slum youngsters, scrutinized by the Christian Medical College in Tamil Nadu, India.
Healthy Diet - Data on the eating habits of 3,966 children was compiled in 2011 by University of Bristol (UK) researchers. The conclusion was that a poor diet (high fat and sugar content) led to a decrease in IQ of 1.67 points, and a health-conscious diet (salad, rice, pasta, fish, fruit) resulted in a 1.20 point-IQ increase.
Maternal Bonding - A 2010 study of 4 year-olds reports that close relationships between mother-child produced a higher IQ. Haceteppe University Faculty of Medicine, in Ankara, Turkey, conducted the research.
Mother’s Education - In Maximizing Intelligence, by David J. Armor, the author claims: “At age five, children whose mothers are high school dropouts have an average IQ of 93, while children whose mothers finished college have an average IQ of 108, a spread of 15 points.” These figures are supported by substantial research.
Psychosocial Stimulation - The University of the West Indies conducted research in 2005 of stunted Jamaican children aged 9-24 months. The study concluded that psychosocial stimulation of the subjects produced “higher full scale IQ scores.” Similarly, deprived children removed from Romanian institutions experienced gains in IQ, notes a 2011 article published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Keep Families Small - Children in small families (three kids or fewer) have a higher average IQ than children in families of four or more children. Oldest children also generally have the highest IQ, claims a 2008 report [pdf] by researchers from UCLA and University College Dublin, compiled from data from the Norwegian School of Economics.
Fluoride Poisoning - A 2007 study of rural communities in Mexico by Universidad de San Luis Potosi asserts that 6-10 year-old children who had excessively high fluoride in their drinking water experienced a 10.2 point drop in IQ scores. A similar 10.0 IQ drop was evidenced by children aged 8-12 exposed to high-fluoride drinking water in Shanxi, China, notes a 2007 report from the Shanxi Institute for Prevention and Treatment of Endemic Disease.
Economic and Social Class - The difference in IQ between the lower and the upper-middle economic classes in the United States is 12-18 points, “depending on the study,” notes Op-Ed columnist Nicholas D. Kristof in The New York Times. Dominant social classes around the world also have higher IQs: Catholics in North Ireland have an average IQ 15 points less than Protestants, Maori IQ in New Zealand is less than European, Roma (Gypsy) IQ is low throughout Europe, and Sephardic Jews have a lower IQ than Ashkenazi in Israel.
We’ll stop here, but please note the abundance of critical factors in creating or destroying IQ:
Did your mother smoke? Were you breast-fed? Born in a smoggy city, after a difficult labor? Ate some lead chips with your nine brothers and sisters? Got sprayed with pesticide? Etc. etc., and I’m only one-third of the way through the full list, plus I’ve had to leave out dozens of other determining factors.
No human being has ever received all the possible benefits that would have enhanced their IQ, but what if everyone did?
* Additional ideas will be included in Hank’s upcoming book, tentatively entitled Smarter Brains, Smarter Planet.