Are people with bigger brains smarter?

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Intelligence researchers have discovered that people with bigger brains are smarter than their smaller-brained counterparts, according to a news release published by the Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA on June 17, 2005

“For all age and sex groups, it is now very clear that brain volume and intelligence are related,” says lead researcher Michael A. McDaniel, Ph.D.

McDaniel, a professor in management in VCU’s School of Business, found that, on average, intelligence increases with increasing brain volume. 

“On average, smarter people learn quicker, make fewer errors, and are more productive,” McDaniel said. “The use of intelligence tests in screening job applicants has substantial economic benefits for organizations.”

The good news for those of us with smaller brains is that intelligence measured via intelligence testing is only one type of intelligence quotient. (See our Emotional Intelligence page for just one of the MANY types of intelligence that have been identified by researchers over the last few decades).

Increase Intelligence

If Dr. McDaniel's findings are correct hoping to increase intelligence via an intelligence quiz or an intelligence quotient test is an illusion. 

Many programs, books and teachers claim to have some kind of breakthrough method for improving intelligence, but none of them pass muster as far as the American Psychological Association is concerned.

What is likely is that the more you use your brain the better you get at specific types of activities. Even if you have a small brain (like me), by stimulating your mind via puzzles and games or by taking Intelligence tests on a regular basis, you are likely to get better at passing Intelligence Tests. The reason is simple - "Practice Makes Perfect".

The benefit is not that you have increased your intelligence - it is that you have improved your ability to deal with intelligence tests.

Intelligence Tests

Intelligence Tests as far as a measure of human intelligence is concerned often just show that you are good at passing one type of culturally-specific intelligence testing regime.

Given that Intelligence Quotient Test scores measure just a limited range of intelligence it begs the question - how relevant is a typical intelligence test.

At first glance, the answer to this question - if it is true that a bigger brain means you are smarter - is very little. But that is only until you apply for a job where intelligence testing is part of the induction process.

If, on average, smarter people learn quicker, make fewer errors, and are more productive, using intelligence tests to screen job applicants is unlikely to go away - just the opposite. 

It is economics that makes intelligence tests relevant - not whether they are an accurate measure of your life skills.

Intelligence Quotient

It is blindingly obvious that:

  • Intelligence quotient scores relate to just one intelligence scale 

  • Researchers have isolated many different types of intelligence so an Intelligence Test and it's associated intelligence quotient score is not the only intelligence scale available.

  • Intelligence testing doesn't help you increase your intelligence (even though it probably makes it easier for you to do better at intelligence tests)

  • An intelligence quiz and intelligence quotient tests are very limited ways of measure overall human intelligence.

To summarise - be careful when using different intelligence scales - you might think you have found out how to increase intelligence - but it is more likely that you have found an intelligence quiz that suits your individual mix of intelligences better.

Human Intelligence

Bigger brains aside, there is also mounting evidence that the ratio of brain cells you have between different regions of the brain are related to the TYPE of intelligence you have.

According to a recent article in NeuroImage it is likely that a person’s mental strengths and weaknesses depend in large part on the individual pattern of grey matter across his or her brain.

This helps to explain why one person is quite good at music and not so good at mathematics, and another person, with the same IQ, is the opposite.

Interestingly, only 6 percent of all the grey matter in the brain appears related to IQ - intelligence seems related to efficient use of a small part of your brain. 

And as you age the brain cells related to IQ seem to shift around. (Sometimes I think I might have lost mine altogether!)

Intelligence Quotient

For the record, the average Intelligence Quotient score is 100. The standard deviation of Intelligence Quotient scores is 15. 

Statistically speaking this means:

  • 50% of people have Intelligence Quotient scores between 90 and 110

  • 2.5% of people are very superior in intelligence (over 130)

  • 2.5% of people are mentally deficient / impaired / retarded (under 70)

  • 0.5% of people are near genius or genius (over 140)

Intelligence Scales 

There's a saying where I come from "If you're so smart how come you ain't so rich?"

A number of researchers think that conventional intelligence quotient scores tell us little about the potential for an individual. So why would a person who is 'very superior in intelligence' fail? The reasons might include:

  • lack of motivation

  • lack of impulse control

  • lack of perseverance

  • fear of failure

  • procrastination

  • inability to delay gratification

  • too little/too much self-confidence

Intelligence Quotients are therefore only part of the picture - there are many factors besides their Intelligence Quotient that contribute to success.

Intelligence Quotient Test

There a number of accepted Intelligence Quotient tests.

The Binet-Simon test was the first - it was developed in France by Alfred Binet, a French educator, in 1905. 

The Binet-Simon test underwent a major revision in 1916 and was renamed the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test. Part of the revision was the invention of the "Intelligence Quotient", better well-known as IQ. 

Lewis Terman (from Stanford University) then worked with Binet to develop the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test. This test linked chronological and mental ages.

This was then revised when people realised that the chronological/mental age mathematics were not quite right - the methodology identified more 'geniuses' than was in fact the case. To deal with this problem the statistical measure of standard deviation became the norm.

So, when you are looking at an Intelligence Quotient Test, bear in mind that not too long ago 'passing' an Intelligence Quotient Test was quite a bit easier than it is today :-).

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