How To Increase Your IQ

By Jamie McSloy / March 4, 2018
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How To Increase Your IQ

Do you want to get smarter?

I have some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that you can get smarter. You can increase your IQ, despite what the average internet idiot seems to think.

The bad news is that it’s not easy and there aren’t any magic bullets. This is despite what the nootropic salesman and the average internet guru wants you to believe.

This might sound like I’m falling into full-guru territory, here.

Am I? What’s the magic secret for raising your IQ?

Let’s find out.

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Is IQ Fixed?

A while back, I wrote on Twitter (I know, perfect medium for this sort of thing,) that IQ wasn’t fixed.

This obviously struck a chord with people, because I had a ton of messages from people over the next few days. Most of them said, “IQ is fixed!” or “You can’t change your IQ, I’ve read the studies!”

Well… I might have a small brain but I have been known on occasions to admit I’m wrong. But before I did so, I decided to look into the studies on IQ and read as much as I could.

I went on Google Scholar and looked up everything I could find.

And you know what?

For all that people say, “I’ve read studies and they say this,” very few people seem to have done so. Those that have seem to misinterpret whatever they find. Here’s what I discovered:

There’s not a single scientist, psychologist or professor of neurobiology anywhere in any study who has said that IQ is fixed.

Again, I’m willing to admit that I’m wrong, so if you’re a learned man of any persuasion who has written a paper saying the opposite of the above, by all means email me to tell me I’m a moron.

That said… nobody who knows what they’re talking about has said IQ is fixed.

I couldn’t find a single instance of this claim.

I could find a ton of evidence supporting the opposite:

  • Better education leads to higher average IQs
  • Diet can affect IQ
  • IQ changes in the population at large as equality of environment is reached

The closest I could find to an argument that IQ is fixed was that IQ was heritable and each person had an individual ceiling. This seems to be the argument that IQ purists run with most frequently.

But you get no points for saying this if you then go on to argue that IQ is fixed outright.

There’s a ceiling on my physical potential. I’m 5’10 and slim-built. I’ll never win the World’s Strongest Man competition. Does this mean I won’t benefit from exercise? No. I can even gain weight and become less slim. But there’s a ceiling on how much muscle I can gain and I’ll never look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s for the second point.

For the first, heritability is not the same as saying something is genetically set in stone. It’s not even the same as “inherited.”

Genes aren’t an astrological magic-key where everything about you is set in stone before you’re born. Genes express themselves differently depending on the stimulus and environment they’re in.

If you take an athlete, ban him from exercise and feed him terrible food, he’ll shrink. His genes haven’t changed. The blueprint that makes him hasn’t changed. It’s just expressed differently because of the stimulus/environment combination.

IQ Is The Same

What is IQ?

IQ is a measure of something called g-factor; which is general intelligence.

Now, the armchair warriors who know all about the realities of IQ seem to be mistaken once again, because actual experts can’t agree on what constitutes general intelligence. So we’re off to a good start.

Amongst the competing theories, there seem to be a ton of possible factors that are ordered in different ways. But generally each ideal has a pyramid of things like this:


Where general intelligence consists of things like processing speed, pattern recognition, verbal abilities and arithmetical prowess.

Here’s where the “IQ is Fixed” argument gets weird.

IQ is comprised of all those different aspects of intelligence. Now, it’s possible to train all of those elements. You’ll never hear someone say, “You can’t get better at arithmetic” or “your reading comprehension is fixed for life before you’re born.”

There are ways to get better at all of these things, and there’s no controversy.

It’s illogical to say, “You can improve every part of something but that’ll have no effect on the whole of the thing.”

So it is with intelligence.

So that’s the good news dealt with. Let’s get on with the bad news…

How To Increase Your IQ

Remember when I was talking about genes being affected by environment and stimulus?

Well, that’s the stage we’re at now. Increasing your IQ is two-fold.

Fixing your environment will have an effect on your IQ. If you want to increase your IQ, the best way to start is by improving your health. Exercise, good sleep habits, eating the right diet and reducing your stress will improve your brain function.

It is undeniable your intelligence comes from your brain and your brain performs better on the above environment factors. So it’s a prerequisite of intelligence increase that you get your environment together.

Conversely, if you want to mess up your IQ, then do the opposite. I’m prone to insomnia and for the last year or so, I’ve had nightmare disorder which ruins my sleep quality. Unsurprisingly, my ability to recognise patterns and behave reasonably has decreased as well within this time frame.

Anyway, let’s talk about the hard work that goes into raising your IQ.

Stimulate your brain. Look at the above chart and you’ll see the various factors that go into general intelligence.

  • Pattern recognition
  • Verbal comprehension
  • Decoding symbols
  • Vocabulary
  • Processing speed

You can improve all of these things.

Sure, you can seek out specific examples, but general intelligence is all of the systems working together.

So improving your general intelligence is, somewhat unsurprisingly, best achieved by doing difficult stuff.

Learning a language will improve most of these things. So will learning better ways to perform mathematical calculations. Your memory will be improved the more you use it and this can mean learning trivia or doing something more useful.

In other words, a combination of nerd hobbies and real world analogues will be sufficient.

Final Thoughts

As I said earlier in this article… I’m welcome to somebody telling me I’m a moron with some good scientific evidence.

However, the anecdotal side of this is – I want you to take an IQ test. Then I want you to spend six months fixing your diet, earning more money whilst working less, exercising and living a healthier life and moving to some relaxing environment.

That’s step one.

Then step two is that I want you to get better or learn chess, learn a language to at least B1 or B2 and read a couple of books on cryptography.

Once you’ve done that, I want you to take ten practice IQ tests.

Then go and, when well-rested, take another IQ test that’s verified by an outside source (i.e. not one of those dumb Facebook tests that everyone does.)

If you do all of the above and there’s no positive change in your IQ, then you can leave me a comment calling me a moron. Even though your life will be better anyway.

But that’s not really an option because if you do all of the above, your IQ will be higher so you’ll be able to thank me.

P.S. With that, I’m never talking directly about IQ again, because I’m pretty sure it makes me more stupid.

However, I’ll talk about nerd hobbies and other stuff that’ll improve your intelligence, so check back for more articles on becoming smarter and more interesting.

  • Jakub says:

    We really are privileged, Jamie. That fluid intelligence is what lets us improve so much.

    The main issue seems to be a binary sort of thinking. “IQ is determined by genetics” or “IQ is determined by your environment” or “IQ is fixed”.
    It’s more complex. “multi-factorial”.

    IQ is *mostly* genetic. Can be improved 5-10 points with things like optimizing hormones/environment, but it’s *largely* fixed.

    Agree with you on improving it – definitely can, and should try.

    Jordan Peterson (genius) has a lot of talks on it.

    One thing he mentions is.. both the right and left are wrong on this:
    Right say “just work harder”
    Left say “everyone is the same”

    He also talks about what you said – tasks to improve intelligence (ie: chess, new language, etc). What happens is… you get better at the task, and slightly better at related tasks… but unrelated tasks for the same type of intelligence are not improved.

    Ie: You get better at pattern recognition for video games, but won’t improve pattern recognition in real life situations.

    We really are privileged, and it’s hard to see it. (ex: I scored in the 99th percentile in math in school barely studying). Many people are not so.


    • Jamie McSloy says:

      Hi Jakub,

      Peterson seems to argue from those videos that IQ can’t be improved, except you can halt the decline. I disagree with this. (Well, the “no increase” bit. Obviously you want to stop the decline.)

      The study he cites is the one that everyone uses to discredit the idea of IQ improvement. It’s a study that says Dual’n’Back training; where you have a set of squares and you test your working memory, don’t work for IQ increase.

      They make you better at the game, but this offers no additional carryover into real life.

      The problem with using this as a means of saying “IQ can’t be increased” is that it’s not really a fair conclusion.

      Of course you aren’t going to get smarter at life when you’re playing a game.

      This is TOTALLY different to something like cryptography, for instance. When you learn cryptography, you master multiple skills that have immense crossover – both to the IQ test (cryptography will increase your IQ score dramatically because that’s essentially what it is) but also other real life skills.

      (For instance, the FSI Language Proficiency test is a tough linguistic text but it’s a simple cryptography test. Same skill, different situation, asymmetric advantage.)

      There’s a general sense of, “unrelated task – no crossover” which is obvious but it’s also not all that useful. If mental performance (IQ) is analogous to physical performance, then we could say:

      “your average footballer gains no advantage when it comes to learning swimming.”

      Which… they’re unrelated skills so of course there’s little crossover and an all-star football killer isn’t automatically going to make the Olympic swimming team.

      That said though… a footballer will have a better physique than an untrained dude and will be better at crossing over regardless.

      Mental performance is like that. You know this if you’re in the top percentile. While there’s a myth that “there’s something for everyone and everyone is good at something”… really, you find that most people who are smart are basically good at everything.

      That’s because the underlying brain architecture is there and they’re more adaptable.

      This can be trained – even though it’s heritable.

      As to the whole “luck” thing and fortunate thing – I can’t really tell, and that’s a part of my argument that I can’t wrap my head around. (Not enough data or my brain is just too small.)

      Assuming I am able to increase my fluid intelligence – is that a byproduct of having a higher fluid intelligence than I think and simply expressing it more efficiently? Not sure.

      There’s another big problem, I think, with Peterson’s argument on the military is that it’s a problem with selection pressures as well as the low IQ of people. But this is a long comment already, so I’ll leave it there.

      anyway,t hanks for dropping by with a thought provoking comment.

      Hope all is going well for you


      • Jakub says:

        I think we agree.

        IQ is heritable, but CAN be improved to some level. I’d say 5-10 points. You might say a bit more. And people SHOULD try everything they can to improve their general skills.

        Also agree many people who are smart are good in many areas.

        Peterson does seem to argue that it can’t be improved… and he is a genius. I know many people like this… no matter how many times they try something, they just doesn’t improve. They don’t get better in any significant way.

        For fluid intelligence, I think that’s it – you can get more efficient at using what you have.

        “selection pressures as well as the low IQ of people” – not sure what you mean. His argument (as best as I understand) is that they have massive pressure to get it right, AND massive pressure to recruit as many people as possible. So when they say <83 IQ cannot be trained to do anything more productive than counterproductive… it's fair to assume they're right (since they try very hard to be wrong).

        All is good, hope all is well with you!


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