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Boosting your schooling may enhance your IQ

Dec. 27, 2011
Courtesy of PNAS
and World Science staff

Does im­prov­ing your educa­t­ion al­so boost your in­tel­li­gence? Yes—to a great­er de­gree than widely un­der­stood, a new study sug­gests.

Educa­t­ion is how much you know; in­tel­li­gence is your abil­ity to fig­ure out and un­der­stand new things. Wheth­er bol­ster­ing the first al­so im­proves the sec­ond has long been con­tro­ver­sial; some sci­en­tists claim school­ing helps en­hance in­tel­li­gence, while oth­ers in­sist in­tel­li­gence is largely fixed from birth.

Grow­ing ev­i­dence in re­cent years al­ready in­di­cates that early-childhood educa­t­ional ex­pe­ri­ences do lead to bet­ter in­tel­li­gence-test scores, said re­search­ers Chris­tian N. Brinch and Taryn Ann Gal­lo­way of the Uni­vers­ity of Os­lo, Nor­way, who car­ried out the new stu­dy. There­fore, they added, the out­stand­ing ques­tion has been wheth­er we’re al­so sus­cep­ti­ble to this ef­fect in our less-impressionable lat­er years. Re­search da­ta is al­so con­sist­ent with that, they went on, but it might simply be that high­er in­tel­li­gence spurs peo­ple to get bet­ter school­ing, cre­at­ing the il­lu­sion that the ef­fect works the oth­er way around.

To work around that prob­lem, Brinch and Gal­lo­way ex­am­ined how men’s in­tel­li­gence test scores fared af­ter a com­pul­so­ry school­ing re­form in Nor­way that length­ened mid­dle school educa­t­ion by two years. Be­cause stu­dents had no choice in the change, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors hoped to elim­i­nate ef­fects re­sult­ing from self-pro­pelled educa­t­ional de­ci­sions.

The re­form was im­ple­mented in dif­fer­ent cit­ies be­gin­ning in 1955 and af­fected child­ren in their mid-teens. 

Brinch and Gal­lo­way ob­tained da­ta on Nor­we­gian men born be­tween 1950 and 1958, in­clud­ing their place of res­i­dence at age 14, the lev­el of educa­t­ion com­plet­ed by age 30, and scores from in­tel­li­gence tests giv­en by the Nor­we­gian mil­i­tary to all draft-eligible men at about age 19. 

Af­ter com­par­ing the scores be­fore and af­ter the re­form, Brinch and Gal­lo­way found that av­er­age In­tel­li­gence Quo­tient, or I.Q., scores rose by 0.6 points. I.Q. score is a com­mon way to meas­ure in­tel­li­gence and at­tempts to gauge a per­son’s men­tal age di­vid­ed by ac­tu­al age. The aver­age score is 100.

The re­sults in­di­cat­ed that an ad­di­tion­al year of school­ing raised IQ by 3.7 points, Brinch and Gal­lo­way said. “Given that IQ is as­so­ci­at­ed with a host of so­cial and eco­nom­ic out­comes,” they wrote, “in­sights on this is­sue are of clear and def­i­nite rel­e­vance for so­ci­ety.” The pair re­ported their find­ings in in this week’s early on­line edi­tion of the jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tio­n­al Aca­de­my of Sci­en­ces.


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Does improving your education also boost your intelligence? Yes—to a greater degree than widely understood, a new study suggests. Education is how much you know; intelligence is your ability to figure out and understand new things. Whether bolstering the first also improves the second has long been controversial, with some scientists claiming that schooling helps enhance intelligence and others asserting that intelligence is largely fixed from birth. Growing evidence in recent years already indicates that early-childhood educational experiences do lead to better intelligence-test scores, said researchers Christian N. Brinch and Taryn Ann Galloway of the University of Oslo, Norway, who carried out the new study. Therefore, they added, the outstanding question has been whether we’re also susceptible to this effect in our less-impressionable later years. Research data is also consistent with that, they went on, but it might simply be that higher intelligence spurs people to get better schooling, creating the illusion that the effect works the other way around. To work around that problem, Brinch and Galloway examined how men’s intelligence test scores fared after a compulsory schooling reform in Norway that lengthened middle school education by two years. Because students had no choice in the change, the investigators hoped to eliminate effects resulting from self-propelled educational decisions. The reform was implemented in different cities beginning in 1955. Brinch and Galloway obtained data on Norwegian men born between 1950 and 1958, including their place of residence at age 14, the level of education completed by age 30, and scores from intelligence tests given by the Norwegian military to all draft-eligible men at about age 19. After comparing the scores before and after the reform, Brinch and Galloway found that average Intelligence Quotient, or I.Q., scores rose by 0.6 points. I.Q. score is a common way to measure intelligence and is attempts to gauge a person’s mental age as compared to their actual age. Specifically, I.Q. score represents mental age divided by actual age. The results indicated that an additional year of schooling raised IQ by 3.7 points, Brinch and Galloway said. “Given that IQ is associated with a host of social and economic outcomes,” they wrote, “insights on this issue are of clear and definite relevance for society.” The pair reported their findings in in this week’s early online edition of the journal pnas.