UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:
New facts and hot stats from the social sciences

By Richard Morin

Sunday, October 19, 1997; Page C05
The Washington Post

How to Raise Your IQ

Many of us think we're born just about as smart as we're ever going to be. Yes, we can go to school and memorize lots of facts and learn lots of skills and maybe collect lots of academic degrees. But when it comes to our innate intelligence -- the mental "right stuff" measured by our IQs -- we basically think we're playing with the neurological hand that's dealt us.

Many of us may be wrong, according to an article in the new American Psychologist. Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams of Cornell University have assembled intriguing data they say shows that going to school raises your IQ a few points for every grade you complete.

The evidence comes from unexpected sources: studies of Appalachian children, of high school dropouts, of the youngest victims of World War II and of kids on summer vacation. No single study clinches the case, but taken together, psychologists Ceci and Williams say the data are compelling. Judge for yourself:

The Children of the hollows

Studies of boys and girls living in isolated parts of Appalachia uncovered a startling fact: The older the child, the "lower was his or her IQ," Williams and Ceci reported. In one 1932 study of children living in remote hollows of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, the IQs of 6 year olds were"not much below the national average, but by age 14, the children's IQs had plummeted into the mentally retarded range," with the degree of falloff directly related to the years of school the child had missed.

Another study in the Tennessee mountains found that children born in 1940 had IQs that were, on average, 11 points higher than their brothers and sisters born in 1930 -- and that the main difference appeared to be the amount of time spent in school. The researchers who conducted these studies looked at other factors -- such as nutrition and health -- but concluded that access to school was key, Ceci said.

Dumbing Down During the Summer

Researchers in the early 1980s confirmed something that every parent fears: Kids not only forget facts over summer vacation, their IQs actually drop. Psychologists who administered IQ tests to students before and after summer vacation discovered that IQs fell by statistically significant amounts. Moreover, a subsequent study showed far less decline among kids who went to summer school or participated in "school-like" activities.

The Penalty For Starting Late

Children who start school late have lower IQs than those who start earlier, Ceci said. After World War II, one research team studied children in the Netherlands, where many schools had closed for several years during the Nazi occupation. They found that IQs "dropped approximately 7 points, probably as a result of their delayed entry into school," Ceci said. Similarly, two separate studies in South Africa examined the intellectual growth of children who entered school late because of teacher shortages. "Children whose schooling was delayed experienced a [reduction] of five IQ points for every year that their school was delayed," he said.

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Swedish psychologists found that finishing high school bumps up IQ by about 8 points over what it would be if the same child had dropped out after junior high. An American research team found that every year of schooling increases IQ by about 3.5 points, Ceci said.

Why does schooling increase IQ? Part of the reason is that "IQ tests reward modes of thinking that are valued in schools," such as analogous thinking, he said. Intelligence tests also inevitably measure some things that are more readily acquired or reinforced in school, such as vocabulary. Thus, time in school may continuously but subtly sharpen the mental edge, and keep it sharp -- or at least sharper than it would otherwise be.

There's also a direct payoff for having a higher IQ: Workers who have them earn more than their duller colleagues, independent of how long they spent in school, Ceci and Williams reported in American Psychologist.

So what happens when older folks go back to school? Do their IQs go up, too? "Good question," Ceci said. "I have no idea . . . . My guess is that they would improve if for no other reason than their vocabulary would get refreshed by reading difficult material and listening to lectures."

Numbers in the News

86%

The proportion of adult men in a new Washington Post survey who say they've had five or more sex partners since they were 18 years old. But only 16 percent of women said they've had sex with five or more different men. One explanation: Somebody's lying, big time. Another explanation: Some women didn't stop until way past five.

$18,900

The amount of money that wealthier Americans collect in Medicare benefits over what they paid into the program during their lifetimes, assert economists Jonathan Skinner and Mark McClellan in a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. Less-affluent Americans collect, on average, about $15,500 more than they put in. "Wealthy enrollees pay more into Medicare than poorer people do," they found. "However, they reap greater benefits over their lifetimes because they live longer and use more medical services." The unintended result is that Medicare "effectively transfers money from low- to high-income groups."

25%

The proportion of Americans who voted "incorrectly" in presidential elections between 1972 and 1988. Using data from the University of Michigan's National Election Studies, researchers Richard Lau of Rutgers University and David Redlawsk of the Educational Testing Service said they were able to determine the percentage of voters who cast ballots for presidential candidates who didn't share their party or ideological identification, or their positions on issues that were important to those voters.

You can reach The Unconventional Wiz at: morinr@clark.net

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company


©1998 by Project Renaissance (regarding this internet version only, other copyrights may apply). While we encourage the free distribution of this article (complete text only, including this notice and acknowledgement of source), we do require that expressed permission be granted by Project Renaissance for any major republication. For minor printing and sharing, we only request that you notify us.

To reach Win Wenger, please visit his website at Project Renaissance

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