A new study from researchers at the University of Western Ontario has come to a surprising conclusion that the very idea of the IQ (intelligence quotient) score is based upon a false premise. Dr. Adrian Owen, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at the University’s Brain and Mind Institute, acted as senior investigator on the study, and he says their finding proves “there is no such thing as a single measure of IQ or a measure of general intelligence.” He continued, “When we looked at the data, the bottom line is [that] the whole concept of IQ – or of you having a higher IQ than me – is a myth.”
Owen and his team looked at the results of 12 separate cognitive tests across 100,000 subjects, programs which were advertised through both New Scientist magazine and the Discovery Channel website. The team originally anticipated a response from “a few thousand” participants, but the rush of those wanting to take part ended up making the research the largest online study on intelligence to date. Some subjects also volunteered to functional MRI scans to monitor brain activity during their tests, and it was this portion of the study that definitively proved to Owen that IQ is a myth. “If there is something in the brain that is IQ, we should be able to find it by scanning,” he told the Toronto Star newspaper. “But it turns out there is no one area in the brain that accounts for people’s so-called IQ.”
That doesn’t mean that we’re left entirely in the dark about the nature of individual intelligence, however, Owen explained. “In fact,” he went on, “there are three completely different networks that respond — verbal abilities, reasoning abilities and short-term memory abilities — that are in quite different parts of the brain.” In other words, there is no single “IQ,” but instead a number of different variables that impact our cognitive abilities.
The study challenges the way that we think about intelligence, but also the way many have sought to improve their intelligence. “People who ‘brain train’ are no better at any of these three aspects of intelligence than people who don’t,” Owen said, and the UoWO study, entitled Fractioning Human Intelligence, seeks to prove that exact notion. That isn’t to say that there isn’t anything we can do to improve our thought processes; the study discovered that smoking decreases verbal ability and short-term memory, but that playing video games apparently improves gamers’ reasoning and short-term memory.
Some things, however, are entirely inescapable: Old age, the study found, will have a negative impact on reasoning and short-term memory, no matter what. We can only hope that one day, a study will be written that proves that the very concept of aging is mistaken but this may just be a dream.