IQ Not Set in Stone

April 17, 2009 

According to a recent column by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, IQ is not an unchangeable number that we are born with and that stays the same throughout our lives. Work done by researchers Richard Nisbett of the University of Michigan and Eric Turkheimer of the University of Virgnia shows that IQ is effected by environment.

The fact that IQ can potentially be changed over time can be seen from both an optimistic and pessimistic viewpoint. On the one hand, it is undoubtedly upsetting that children growing up in poverty tend to suffer downward pressure on their IQs. The ill-effects of a lack of intellectual stimulation and exposure to reading and vocabulary often leaves them at a great IQ disadvantage compared to their middle and upper class counterparts.

On the other hand, students who are moved into a more intellectually stimulating environment can see their IQs rise over time. Such is the case for poor children who are adopted by upper-middle class families. One French study found that children in such situations had average IQs of approximately 110, as compared to a control group with an average IQ score of 95.

The implications of this research can be seen throughout childhood. Generally, the earlier children are exposed to high quality educational programming, the more likely they are to improve their IQ scores. A couple of examples of high quality programs that have achieved such success are the Knowledge of Power Program (KIPP) and the Harlem Children’s Zone. Both of these programs begin with children at very early ages and also provide instruction to parents about ways they can provide appropriate environments for their children’s intellectual development.

It has also been demonstrated that junior high school students who are informed that IQ is actually changeable and not set in stone tend to do better academically. Such students tend to perform better in school simply because they feel more empowered.

For more information on this subject readers can refer to the following websites:

Sources: The New York Times, Wikipedia,,


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