Brain Training To Nurture The Genius Within

The idea that our Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is an inherited trait that is fixed for life is a common but mistaken one.  Decades of research have now shown that intelligence levels are relatively malleable.  More importantly, research at NUIM university have struck upon what appears to be a set of basic building blocks of intellectual development.  They have also devised a method for teaching these basic skills and have digitized this training online for use by individuals and schools via a commercial partnership with RaiseYourIQ.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests index the speed and accuracy with which everyone can perform tasks associated with reasoning or educational attainment (e.g., use numbers, display an extensive vocabulary, concentrate, problem-solve).  Despite public misperception, it has been known for some time now that any intensive educational program can lead to IQ gains (e.g., Brinch & Galloway, 2012; Ceci, 1991).  Moreover, new neuroscientific evidence provided in an article published in Nature, shows that IQ can vary considerably in the teenage years as a function of environmental influences (Ramsden, et al., 2011).  More recently, several respectable studies by Susanne Jäeggi and colleagues at the University of Michigan have found that practice on a demanding memory task known as the dual n-back task leads to gains in fluid intelligence (the ability to reason and to solve new problems independently of previously acquired knowledge).  Finally, in the special education field IQ gains have been routinely reported following Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) interventions.  The late O. Ivar Lovaas (1987), for example, reported IQ gains up to 30 points (roughly two standard deviations) following a three-year ABA programme for autistic children.

Why Does IQ matter?

While there is much more to being a well-rounded citizen than intellectual capacity, a persons IQ will nevertheless roughly predict their educational success (Deary, Strand, Smith & Fernandes, 2007) and is associated with a range of several positive life outcomes (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998).  One study (Frey & Detterman, 2004) found a high correlation of 0.82 between IQ and American Standard Aptitude Test (SAT) scores.  The latter are widely used as selection criteria for college places and other training and employment opportunities.  Another study (Deary et al., 2007) found a correlation of 0.81 between IQ and British GCSE scores.  Taken together, these findings strongly suggest that any enhancement of intellectual skills will broaden educational and employment opportunity for the individual.  The problem is that attempts to raise IQ have until recently been rather haphazard and often ineffective.  However, in research over the past decade, in collaboration with a community of international professionals, have identified what appears to be a set of basic building blocks of intellectual development. 


How To Make a Genius of any Person

Research in the field of Relational Frame Theory (Hayes, Barnes-Holmes & Roche, 2001) has shown that understanding relations, such as more than, less than, opposite, same, before, after, here-there, amongst others, is crucial for our intellectual development in just about every sphere.  In fact, they are so crucial that researchers have reported in published scientific research papers that we can measure intelligence simply in terms of one’s ability to understand these relations (or what we call “relational ability”).

As an example of an abstract relational skill that we all must acquire, consider the example of how monetary currency works.  With physical currency, the value of a coin is unrelated to its physical size.  So while coins have varying magnitudes in terms of size, the magnitude of interest in the context of value, is the buying power of the coin, not the length of its circumference.  The latter is easily discernible by any animal, human or otherwise.  But the abstract purchasing power magnitude is arbitrary and abstract and not discernible from looking at the coin alone.  Coin value is an abstract relational property.  Using money, therefore, requires a basic grasp of some algebraic concepts, which is precisely why children cannot usually use money.  Their relational skills are not far enough advanced to allow them to deal with abstract and arbitrary relations between symbols. 


The 5c coin is actually larger than the 10c coin, but the smaller coin is more valuable. Children must learn the abstract nature of  “more than” or comparison relations so that this relation becomes unhinged from physical properties.  Only then can we deal with “arbitrary relations” like those used in algebra.


Parents and teachers already teach children relational skills routinely without even knowing it.  For example, parents inadvertently teach young children the concept of “sameness” in normal language interaction.  To be more specific, a parent will not just teach a child one word for a television set, they may in fact use two.  On one occasion they may refer to it as the “tv” and on another as “the box”.  The child will have to be explicitly told in the early years that given this information, “tv” and “box” refer to the same thing.  Any confusion shown by the child is met with assurance from the parent that whenever two words are used for the same thing – those two words have the same meaning as each other.  This is just one way in which a child learns to understand what “same” means and how “same” relations can be derived across multiple words and objects in logical ways.  This in essence is a skill required for vocabulary expansion.  If it were not for this skill, each and every word in the child’s vocabulary would have to be taught individually and related to each other word individually (i.e., billions of individual learning tasks). Other relational concepts, such as Opposite, and comparison, have unique properties, and it is surprising how inefficient many children and even adults are in their basic grasp of the truly abstract nature of these relations.


 The Democratization of Educational Attainment

Affordable and easily accessible interventions to hone the foundational educational skills of any child have the potential to democratize education.  It can be quite impractical for a school to try to bring up to speed a child who is years behind in educational attainment due to a lack of investment in that child in their earlier years, by parents or otherwise (Hart & Risely, 1995).  The identification of relational skills as the basic building blocks of intelligence, however, offers the possibility of remediating these deficits in a very efficient way so that educational efforts will be more effective and so that disadvantaged children can reach their educational potential in an expedited fashion.  In this way, brain training can foster inclusion by increasing the skill sets of those with learning needs, who may require more assistance than many educational settings can cater fully for. Brain  training is a tool that can remove the barriers to education and the reaching of one’s potential in contexts in which massive resources are required to remediate intellectual deficits.  

 For instance it was once thought that the IQ of a Down’s syndrome child could not increase above 60 or so.  Thanks, however, to concerted efforts to address the specific educational needs of children with Down’s syndrome we have left that supposed maximum IQ in the rear view mirror many years ago and have seen such children go on to reach borderline to low average IQs and even to attend University to complete Degrees.  We have every reason to believe that we are on the cusp of just such a leap forward in our expectations, not just of children with borderline and mild learning difficulties, but of all children. 


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