Posted on November 9, 2011

Lightbulb Moment Shows Intelligence Can Be Learnt

Jennifer Oriel, The Australian, November 9, 2011

Iintelligence is higher education’s secret vice. Everyone wants more of it, but no one wants to acknowledge it exists.

A 2009 survey of Cambridge University students revealed that 10 per cent were taking drugs to boost their brainpower and recent studies across US campuses have found a quarter of students high on artificial intelligence.

While recent revelations from neuroscience illustrate intelligence is created through a constant interchange between genes and environment, the IQ wars continue to make scientific exploration of the brain controversial.

Human intelligence was once perceived as a fertile field of scholarly inquiry. French psychologist Alfred Binet created intelligence testing in the early 20th century to effect changes in education, assisting students with disabilities to learn. However, his tests were soon transformed by Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman into quantitative IQ measures to examine mass populations and prosecute a eugenicist agenda.

By the 1960s, IQ tests were being used to support claims of fixed variations in intelligence based on sex, class and race, research that was revived in the 1990s with the publication of The Bell Curve, by psychologist Richard Herrnstein and political scientist Charles Murray.

Despite mounting public furore in the early 21st century, key educational and scientific figures maintained that IQ was a decisive factor in the relative educational and economic success of human populations. In 2005, then-president of Harvard University Lawrence Summers resigned amid a storm of controversy after claiming that sex-based differences in intelligence, rather than political discrimination, were the cause of women’s under-representation in science.

Two years later, Nobel Prize-winning geneticist James D. Watson was suspended as the chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory when he claimed that IQ tests had proven the existence of race-based differences in intelligence.

The journal Nature captured the furore over academic research into intelligence with a series of articles in 2009 debating whether it should be permitted.

Those seeking an end to the research pointed to the history of science being used to justify crimes against humanity, such as in the eugenicist policies of Nazi Germany.

As the IQ debate raged past its century mark, neuroscientists were applying advanced technologies to the question of whether and how the brain makes intelligence. Neural-imaging techniques that measure the structure and activity of the brain led to the discovery of two types of intelligence–one crystallised, one fluid, and both variably influenced by interactivity between genes and the environment. PET scanning also revealed the brain changes its structure in response to external stimuli, corroborating the theory of neuroplasticity.

In the IQ wars, the brain had emerged triumphant and it was a lot smarter than the arguments raging in its name.

The effort to understand intelligence has gained a more popular following during the past two decades because of research illustrating its relationship to educational and life outcomes. University of Edinburgh psychologist Ian Deary and colleagues revealed in Nature Reviews that general intelligence is strongly predictive of social mobility, health and life expectancy. But it is the field of neuroscience that has produced the most remarkable findings about humanity’s intellectual capacity.

Neurologists Rex Jung from the University of New Mexico and Richard Haier of the University of California were among the first researchers to adapt brain-imaging technology to the study of intelligence. By combining MRI scans to study brain structure and PET scans to observe what happens inside it as we think, Jung and Haier deduced that intelligence arises from the density of white and grey matter in certain regions combined with the strength and efficiency of neural connectivity–or how well the different parts of the brain communicate.

Haier has proposed that neuroimaging should be used in education to assess student aptitudes, providing for pedagogy and curriculum adapted to observable cognitive strengths. But a corollary of neuroimaging research, neuroplasticity, reveals that the brain students have when they begin a course of education may be markedly different to the one in their heads at graduation.

The most well-known advocate of neuroplasticity is psychiatrist Norman Doidge, whose bestseller The Brain That Changes Itself proposed that human consciousness had a direct imprint on genetic expression. Doidge’s work revealed that repeated exposure to positive stimuli created neural pathways that supported healthier brains and behaviour while exposure to negative stimuli such as addictive substances wired behaviours into the brain, such as drug addiction.

Rutgers University neuroscientist April Benasich’s work on infant learning has advanced neuroplasticity research by introducing neuroeducation to improve the cognitive function of infants with developmental delays. She has found that, when detecting something new, the brain’s neural circuitry is interrupted quickly as it seeks to recognise and comprehend the stimulus. Neuroimaging has shown that the brain literally lights up as it learns. The lightbulb moment is more than metaphor, as it turns out.

Benasich’s belief in the interactive nature of cognition has led to a pioneering form of neuroeducation in which infants offered dual screens in cribs learn to respond more rapidly to alternating downloaded images and code faster reaction times into their brains. This acquired ability improves response to visual cues and, therefore, reading ability.

Benasich says: “My research firmly supports not only the existence, but the critical importance of, neuroplasticity . . . the development of intelligence proceeds in an intensively interactive way that is constantly changing and is influenced by genetic expression, temperament, as well as previous environmental influences.”

The realisation that intelligence can be learned is appealing, especially given the demands on the human mind in an increasingly interactive and globalised world. Science and technology have transformed our understanding of human potential with computer screens beaming a spectacular synaptic dance in the brain as it navigates regions to acquire and make meaning from knowledge.

It took science to reveal that the beauty and diversity of the brain as it learns how to be intelligent are not only philosophical, but also physical. The questing human mind is a symphony in sotto voce.

19 responses to “Lightbulb Moment Shows Intelligence Can Be Learnt”

  1. sbuffalonative says:

    Benasich says: “My research firmly supports not only the existence, but the critical importance of, neuroplasticity … the development of intelligence proceeds in an intensively interactive way that is constantly changing and is influenced by genetic expression, temperament, as well as previous environmental influences.”

    It’s called learning.

    The brain, like any organ, responds to use, abuse, and neglect. Practice math, a musical instrument, video game, or anything that requires learning and practice and the brain will respond and change.

    The question is always how much intelligence is innate and pre-set and how much does environmental stimulation promote higher learning skills.

    A retard can never be made a genius but a genius can be made a retard by say, depriving oxygen to the brain.

  2. Urban Teacher says:

    As a psychologist trained in both IQ testing and neuroscience, I don’t know where to begin critiquing this article as it contains so much falsehood and speculation.

    I know this is not helpful, but I just can’t do it.

    Contact Phillippe Rushton if you want a detailed response.

  3. John says:

    Where is the evidence that IQ can be raised?

    Besides even if IQ is malleable (which it certainly is, to a small degree), that doesn’t mean that races don’t have genetically different average IQs (which they certainly do, to a large degree).

  4. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps it is useful to emphasize that heritability estimates are

    population averages. This leaves room for some persons within any particular population grouping to be detectably more malleable and less hard-wired than most others in that group. I’ve never seen a detailed explication of this.

  5. WR the elder says:

    Obviously our brains can change as a result of interaction with the environment, a process otherwise known as “learning”, as #1 sbuffalonative has stated.

    That’s not the same thing as saying that intelligence is learned. If I study a text book and learn algebraic topology I know some things I didn’t know before and how to do some things I couldn’t do before, but my IQ doesn’t go up.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Sometimes the beginning of insight in these matters arises from observations that on the surface seem very remote, even irrelevant. The full-throttle hedonism/egoism of

    American life is very directly related to this question. Americans increasingly have no “tolerance” for raw facts that puncture their dreamy bubble-worlds. If harsh realities can be evaded or postponed, they will be. We have been trying to “rein in spending” nearly as far back as courageous academic martyrs–like Chris Brand– have been calling for due regard to the work of Jensen, Lynn, Rushton, Osborne, Baker, Shuey…

  7. Anonymous says:

    This article lies by presupposition. That presupposition is we can measure cognitive function, intelligence, g as the trait based theories go. You can’t. Because intelligence is not something you have more or less of. It’s not like strength where I can line people up and see how much weight they can bench press.

    And, if you go back to the beginning of IQ research, that was not its purpose. Its purpose was to identify mental defectives to avoid wasting time trying to educate people who could not learn (a very worthy goal this country would benefit greatly if it revived).

    IQ is very good at this. Defining who can not benefit from an education and never will vs those who can, with greater or lesser degrees of effort, and effort being the primary determinant, succeed. To a vastly reduced degree, the test can identify “smart” people from those who are just average. With two caveats. It’s often unreliable (high IQ people failing at advanced education while moderate IQ people succeeding) and it absolutely cannot identify really smart people from just sort of smart people. There is no difference at all between a 120 IQ and a 160 IQ. And barely any difference between a 100 IQ and 130 IQ.

    There is, however, and incredible difference between 80 IQ (your average black) and 100 IQ (normal IQ). Which is the problem in a world that wants to fool itself about the nature of blacks.

    By the way, neuroplasticity does not mean anything close to what the author of this article is talking about.

    Classic example of neuroplasticity (taken from the standard authority, Principles of Neuroscience) is a monkey who has had the branch of the cervical nerve that feeds its little finger severed. Initially, it loses the ability to feel. But after months, the other cervical nerves take up that function and feeling returns. THAT is neuroplasticity.

    I don’t know what this guy is trying to say since he lumps together a bunch of unrelated issues and makes wild assumptions based on nothing. If I may be more direct, you absolutely cannot tell how smart someone is if you look at a PET scan of his brain and you absolutely won’t do any better on your next test if you take so called brain boosting drugs.

    And environment has no effect on IQ except to the point it causes brain damage…..(ie starvation, crack babies).

  8. Jim says:

    Sounds like a scammer looking for grant money.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I think that one can get slightly higher points by practicing for IQ tests, the same way one practices for SAT (though the difference ma be less dramatic).

  10. Jeddermann. says:

    “Where is the evidence that IQ can be raised?”

    Isn’t this usually placed under the category of test taking skills? NOT raising the IQ as such but rather merely improving the scores a person gets on IQ type tests or tests period. Certain skills [?] [your first guess is usually the correct one, etc.] that allow you to score “higher”. “Jed tests well”, says the teacher. Jed has learned the secret?

  11. Jeddermann. says:

    I can recall when we took tests in grammar school and had those questions with multiple choice answers the teacher would always tell us to answer each question as one of those four choices has to be the right answer. DUHHH! We had to be TOLD that. I went to the Chicago public schools so maybe that was routine instruction.

  12. Elitist says:

    This research does sound as though it were motivated by wishful thinking.

    Still, it sounds promising.

    Of course, we might discover that Caucasian brains are the only genuinely malleable ones, which would explain the extraordinary creativity and inventiveness of the European races.

    In general, it is clear that people who embrace the challenge of learning throughout their lives remain open-minded, focused, and exciting people.

    Studies have even shown that lifelong learners, people who remain alert and curious, are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s, for example.

    Unfortunately, there is a high cost to being a lifelong learner who prioritizes the quest for knowledge above material success in social acceptance:

    you’re likely to think in unconventional ways, and to reject clichéd, and ideological thinking in favor of truth and reality.

    For example, you might discover that the intelligentsia, academia, the media establishment have brainwashed themselves to believe transparently childish multiculturalist twaddle, and are willing to destroy European civilization in order to avoid reassessing their quite infantile and transparently silly assumptions.

    But the rewards are greater than a posh academic post with material security:

    A perpetual sense of excitement as you discover reality in all its facets.

  13. Anonymous says:

    If I gave a slice of cake to a boy who had one slice already, and a slice to a girl who had two slices already, everybody has more cake. But not everybody has the same amount of cake. It turns out that not everybody has the same amount of that delicious cake in this life. Some waste what hey have, others go hungry. Yes, let’s serve up cake to all the children – by don’t expect equal outcomes after equal opportunities.

  14. A Swain says:

    Innate intelligence can’t be learnt, but can be expanded upon by outside influences.

    The type of intelligence this article refers to is that of devised intelligence acquisition. In other words, the intake of information invented by another or several others as opposed to the workings of one’s own innate intelligence.

    Most humans are capable of learning in varying degrees the intricacies and nuances governing the discoveries and inventions of others more or less rota fashion, but the true test of the level and quality of one’s IQ, lies in the ability to question, challenge and/or refute the logic/authenticity of any already existing devised intelligence resource(s).

    “PET scanning also revealed the brain changes its structure in response to external stimuli, corroborating the theory of neuroplasticity.”

    This has little to do with the level or quality of IQ and inventive/creative abilities. It means the brain is adjusting its memory storage capacity to accomodate further information intake, so to speak, that’s all.

  15. A Swain says:

    “Most humans are capable of learning in varying degrees the intricacies and nuances governing the discoveries and inventions of others more or less rota fashion,…..

    The word should have been ‘rote’ not rota.

    My apologies.

  16. John Engelman says:

    The journal Nature captured the furore over academic research into intelligence with a series of articles in 2009 debating whether it should be permitted.

    Those seeking an end to the research pointed to the history of science being used to justify crimes against humanity, such as in the eugenicist policies of Nazi Germany.

    – Jennifer Oriel, The Australian, November 9, 2011


    Organized genocide has usually been organized against those who had higher average intelligence, such as Ashkenazic Jews during the Holocaust, and educated Cambodians under the tyranny of Pol Pot.

    Moreover, the crimes of the Nazis must be compared with the crimes of the Communists. With no evidence at all Communists built societies on the assumption that human nature was perfectible, and that human potential was infinite.

    There should never be any taboos against telling the truth about human beings, and the human predicament. When untrue assertions about human beings become the basis for social policy, the results range from disappointing to disastrous.

  17. Bill R says:

    I see this article as trying to breathe life back in to the “we can close the achievement gap” money pit. The advocates of trying to make retard level blacks in to geniuses keep banging up against the wall of IQ. More and more failures point to the FACT of IQ limitations. So, the article NOW tries to sell us that IQ can be “learned”. You know, if you want bigger muscles, lift weights. Take steroids. They try to equate the brain to muscle. It is not muscle. Some wonderful, marvelous, complex things happen in the brain. They (scientists) still don’t know very much about what goes on in there. They do know, from testing, empirical evidence, and years of study that IQ has a LOT to do with solving complex problems, making analytical judgements, forming abstract ideas, collating information and sorting it, and organizing and planning for future events or goals. Blacks on the average have none of that nor demonstrate any of that due to blacks having an average IQ of a functional retard. So. Given that immutable fact, the author now tries to sell us in to throwing more money down the pit in the hopes that IQ can be learned through practice. Nope. You can make a retard a little more functional, but you can never make him “learn” to be much of an abstract thinker or planner. You can make an average IQ demonstrate a little more than average ability in these areas but you can never make him a PhD in physics. And you can take your average PhD and maybe polish his abilities further, but you can never make him a true genius who can sit on a bus and formulate the relationship between time, space, and travel and then write the mathematical equations to prove it.

  18. Greg says:

    At # 7:

    Have you read The Bell Curve? IQs of 160 and 120 are quite different, and the ability to do certain high-level cognative thinking and reasoning in tough subjects like astrophysics or upper level calculus mean those who are above average (120) struggle immensely in areas where those who are well above average (160) easily comprehend.

    Because most things humans read about, talk about, and think about aren’t very difficult to grasp; we often don’t see these differences. But don’t be fooled in thinking IQ tests fail to recognize who is truly genius in our society–they all have IQs above 150.

  19. Playing Roots Backwards says:

    I have long wondered why so many Whites are willing to mindlessly accept the belief that we were all created equal despite the huge body of evidence that reveals otherwise. A recent article at solved that mystery for me:

    The first three paragraphs read like semi-lefty vomit, but they are leading to some great verbiage.