Is it nature or nurture that contributes to intelligence?

October 19, 2010

In his book, BRAIN RULES FOR BABY, Medina admits that like most medical and cognitive questions, there is no easy answer. After years of research, there is no "smart" gene, and even the presence of some variants, one called COMT and the other called cathepsin D, only adds 3 or 4 IQ points. But the good news is IQ's have been going up for decades. From 1947 to 2002, American kids' intelligence quotient went up 18 points. That shows that IQ is malleable and can be increased or decreased based on socioeconomics and behaviors.

Medina offers some clues about what you should reinforce, based on other smart people, with the caveat that there are many details we just don't know.

First, he debates what it means to be "smart." It includes memory and the ability to improvise or have fluidity of extemporization.

But there are also 5 other intellectual gifts to watch for in your child:

    1. Curiosity: An unquenchable desire to ask "what if," and tinker or experiment (you should obviously encourage this…don't ever tire of answering your child's questions).
    2. Self-control: Children who can filter out distractions score 210 points higher on their SATs - try to get your little one to focus his/her energy early on and accomplish a small goal for 10 or 15 minutes before moving on to the next project. Developing daily routines will help.
    3. Creativity: How to see connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, limited risk-taking.
    4. Verbal communication: Clearly the ability to talk and be understood is supreme and unique to humans. And interestingly, Medina says a child's best learning is done in relationships with parents, caregivers and teachers, less from machines (T.V.s, computers)
    5. Decoding nonverbal signals (body language, etc.): Reading micro-expressions which are the "true" feelings a person shows for only a brief nano-second. Reading them is highly important.
Further, smart young children become successful adults if they: are attracted to other smart people of different educational backgrounds (that way they learn a new perspective), and closely observe other people's behaviors.

Medina uses two fascinating examples to bolster his hypothesis: President Teddy Roosevelt and Albert Einstein. The brains of both men were studied and analyzed for clues about their brilliance after their deaths. Disappointingly, neither brain showed much difference from anyone else's when it was biopsied. So the construct of your child's brain alone will not show that he or she is predisposed to greatness intellectually (even though it's clear DNA plays a 50-percent role). But the predisposition to be smart COMBINED with a warm, encouraging intellectual environment offers the perfect "stew" to cook up intelligence... or the soil for a strong, thriving brain to grow.

Next week we'll talk about the "seeds" you use to put into that rich soil.

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