Many people believe that there are many ways to increase intelligence or improve your brain’s ability to think more clearly. However, many of these claims have not been scientifically supported and many can be trusted. Here are ten ways to increase your brain power and intellectual potential. Each suggestion has at least some respectable evidence. We will continue to work our way down from number one and look at techniques with more solid evidence.
1. Do Brain Training
Psychologists know for a long time that our fundamental cognitive skills, such as the speed with which we process information, are stable throughout our lives. In other words, although we often have more to do with what we have, it is not easy to improve our basic cognitive skills levels – at least, not until recently.
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Brain training is a new player in the self-improvement arena. It promises (in many cases at least) real improvements in our fundamental cognitive skills such as working memory, decision-making speed, and working memory.
Brain training is usually done online or via a handheld device. You will find it in the form of fun games that stimulate the brain’s basic cognitive activity. Brain-training advocates believe that practicing these tasks can lead to real changes in neurogenesis (cell density). It is believed that mental exercises can “boost” our brains. Psychologists now have a lot of information (although not enough) on which brain areas are involved with what kinds of skills. They can devise exercises that target these areas to help us become more agile thinkers, more creative, and more logical.
It is clear that there are many charlatans in the field riding the new wave of excitement about “cognitive training” by psychologists. The media have made it a common theme that there is no evidence to support brain training’s merits. It is true that brain training companies often make exaggerated claims that can cause even the most optimistic psychologists to raise their eyebrows and shiver in discomfort.
However, psychologists almost know that a stimulated brain is more likely to develop fully and faster than one that has been understimulated. We know for certain (or as certain as possible) that brain cells connect in response to stimulation. This means that areas of the stimulated brain are significantly more developed. Although some evidence and general theory point in the right direction, we are less certain that brain training can make us more creative, intelligent, and insightful in our thinking.
Another report by Cassidy Roche and Hayes (2011) in The Psychological Record shows that children who were exposed to a behavior-analytical form of intellectual skill training called relational skills training saw IQ gains of around 13 points.
While it is true that not all brain training products can withstand scientific scrutiny, that does not negate the principle psychologists might be onto something with brain training.
There is a lot of evidence that mental exercise can improve brain function. This has been proven by decades of research in different labs, including with humans and animals. The question is whether products are capable of doing this independently and making changes to where it matters most: our intelligence, memory, and processing speed.
2. Extend Your Education
In many countries, early intervention programs are available (e.g. Head Start in the U.S.). These programs provide intensive education for children at high risk. While they may improve a child’s scholastic achievement, it has not been proven that they can do so for general intelligence. These programs have the main advantage of providing a stimulating environment for children and intensifying their education experience.
You can do the same for your kids and yourself by learning and actively participating in problem-solving every day. Learn a course. Learn a second language. You might find the book you’ve been avoiding. Children as old as eighteen can show IQ improvements if their environment is more stimulating and challenging.
Although the idea that intelligence (or IQ score), is fixed for life is controversial, there is now weaker evidence to support this view. Norwegian scientists Christian N. Brinch, Taryn Ann Galway published a study that supports this idea. The problem of trying to distinguish the effects of education on IQ and the possibility that smarter people choose to be educated was solved by them.
The study examined the effects of an increase in the compulsory schooling period in Norway during the 1960s. The minimum education time for Norwegians was increased from seven years to nine years. These authors cleverly suggested that people who received this mandatory education would have higher intelligences by the time they were adults.
Researchers had excellent records of cognitive ability that were taken by the military from all eligible males aged 19 and they were able to use these to calculate the individual’s IQ. They were able to calculate that IQ rose by 0.6 points on average for all Norwegian males during the study period. However, it increased by 3.7 points with each additional year of education. These results strongly support the idea that education can improve IQ. However, it is also possible that those who need extra education will reap the benefits.
3. Maintain High Levels of Mental Activity
Having more conversations with your child will make them more intelligent. Playing simple games that involve naming objects and solving puzzles together can help improve a child’s intelligence. Talking with children increases their vocabulary, which is a great way to increase their intelligence.
Simply by starting this process early in your child’s life, you can increase their IQ by six percentage points. The evidence suggests that these benefits may not be available until age 4.
Children whose parents read to them every day have higher intelligence. However, reading interactively is key to a higher IQ. This means you need to use a varied voice and show a lot of emotion while reading. You should look for any signs of interest in the child, and ask them questions.
You could ask them, “What do they think will happen next?” You could also ask them if they know the meaning of a word or if you can give one to them. Reading is a social activity that can be enjoyed with friends. This is where the real IQ booster comes in.
This is the most important thing you can do for your child. It’s the reason TV and audiobooks won’t work. Children need their parents, it turns out! Engaging in stories with children is a great way to help them develop their intellectual skills, as shown by the text What reading does to the mind” by Cunningham & Stanovich (1998).
Don’t be discouraged if you weren’t read to as a child. It’s always a good idea to exercise the brain and keep your mind active. Neuroscientists have long suspected that crosswords, Sudoku, and other fun activities can help increase your cognitive abilities. Your spatial and reasoning skills will be tested even if you struggle to read a map or assemble flat-pack furniture.
To make your brain work, try to understand the points of view you don’t agree with. Listen to the arguments that don’t make sense to you and try to understand them.
4. Stay Healthy
Psychologists have discovered that exercise can be a miracle cure for many mental, physical and emotional problems. There are usually no side effects and exercise is completely free. Exercise increases blood flow which, in turn, increases oxygen and glucose to the brain. Your brain gets a workout because it coordinates all the complicated activities.
Exercise promotes the production of three important growth factors, brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF), insulin-like growth factors (IGF-1), as well as endothelial and vascular growth factors (VEGF). These growth factors reduce inflammation, increase blood vessel size, and slow down cell destruction. Good exercise can also activate dormant stem cells in the hippocampus (a part of our mid-brain that controls memory).
Psychologists have been more interested in ancient wisdom about mindfulness, and meditation in recent years. These practices have been shown to improve mental and physical health. Meditation techniques can be very different, but all of them have one thing in common: a focus on breathing and calm.
Meditation improves memory and concentration, according to research. Meditation has been shown to increase brain areas that are associated with intelligent thinking. One study published in the journal Frontiers in Human neuroscience by Professor Eileen Luders from UCLA found that long-term meditation participants had greater amounts of “folding” or gyrification of their brain cortex. Although the researchers didn’t prove it, this should allow for faster processing of information by the brain.
A second study, also by the same researchers, was published in the journal Neoimagein 2009. It found that meditation has a higher level of cell density in the frontal lobes and hippocampus (both associated with memory and forward planning and control).
Good learning is impossible when stress is present. Stress can make it more difficult to pay attention and prioritize immediate information. To think in an intelligent way, however, it is important to think in a more broad and considered manner. This is impossible when we are stressed. Meditation can calm our minds and increase our ability to fully engage with each learning experience. The extended practice may even be shown to increase our general Intelligence, according to some studies.
6. Eat Well
There are many food ingredients that can be good for your brain power. And there are numerous marketing specialists who will attempt to sell you the extracted ingredient in pill form, or added to yogurt. Many food components can improve our mental function, but the truth is that there are many. Ginkgo Biloba, which is derived from the Ginkgo tree, has positive effects on memory. Broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, and some berries are good for memory.
The omega-3 fat acids found in oily fish (and other grains) seem to have a positive effect on brain function and memory. Green teas and protein generally also appear to improve memory. High levels of protein, found in meat, eggs, beans, and peas (pulses), are responsible for the production by neurons of important neurotransmitters dopamine. These are linked to mental alertness.
Evidence is becoming clearer about the benefits of a healthy diet, and breastfeeding to increase IQ. Breastfeeding mothers for longer than a few weeks provides essential omega-3 fatty acid to their babies. This is not available in all baby formulas (though it is required in the U.S.). These essential oils can also be found in fresh fish so children who eat a lot of fresh food and grains, including fresh fish as soon as possible, have higher intelligence than those who eat formula or processed foods.
The best evidence is from a randomized controlled trial that was published in the Pediatrics journal by Helland Smith, Saarem, and Saugstad in 2003. The study measured the intelligence of children who received omega-3-enhanced milk formula as compared with those who did not. Researchers found that children who were omega-3-fed had IQs several points higher by the age of four years, long after the milk stopped.
The diet of the mother can also affect a child’s intelligence, particularly in the last trimester. A healthy mother who eats a balanced diet rich in omega-3 oils, and provides nutritious food for her child, can help them gain a lot of IQ points that last a lifetime. Your child’s intelligence may be affected if the mother and her infant eat processed food and foods such as cakes, fizzy drinks, and cheap bread.
7. Get Good Sleep
When we’re asleep, the brain doesn’t shut down. While you are asleep, there is a lot going on in your brain. This includes consolidating what you have learned during the day. (See work by Walker and Stickgold, Alsop, Gaab and Schlaug 2005). Psychologists know that dreams are a result of the brain’s effort to understand all the information we have taken in, but have not yet fully processed and made sense.
If this is true, then you can solve problems and make sense of the world by ” sleeping” on it. However, if you don’t sleep well, you could lose the benefits of your learning experiences. Also, you won’t be able to learn as much the next day. To be fully productive and achieve their cognitive peak, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. This method of keeping your mind sharp is only number seven, as there are scientific doubts regarding the importance of “sleep consolidating” (see Vertes’ work in the journal Neuron 2004).
Also read: 5 Tips to Deal With Panic Attacks
8. Think Positive
The psychology of education has a well-known effect called the “Pygmalion Effect” (after the Greek myth Pygmalion). This is where teachers expect more from certain children and they then strive to live up to those expectations. Psychologists refer to this effect as the Rosenthal–Jacobsen 1968 discovery (after the psychologists who discovered it).
This research shows that if we set high standards and believe it is possible, then it is possible. Children who feel they don’t have to achieve high standards are more likely to give up and not reach their full potential.
One study was conducted by Arronson and his colleagues in 2001. It taught children from a community with a low education that it was possible to be more intelligent. Children from this group had better math skills than children in a control group who were not encouraged. A positive attitude is important!
9. Have Good Relationships
A particular type of memory we use in relationships of all types is called “transactive”, which was first created by Daniel Wegner in 1985. This type of memory is when we are experts in a particular type of information and have often sole responsibility.
Your spouse might be great at remembering the name and job of someone at a party. However, he may struggle to remember faces and names despite having met them before. Couples often work together as a team and each can be relied on to excel in their respective areas of talent. Although one partner may have a harder time remembering things, the couple seems to be able to work together in a social setting. This is a mutual benefit for both partners, as they are able to remember everything and never feel forgetful.
It turns out, the more varied your friends are in their types, the more you will be challenged to think creatively. They give you information that you don’t normally have and offer different perspectives. Friends, literally, are there to help you keep your mind open.
10. Quit Smoking
To improve your brain power, the first thing you can do is stop smoking. Smoking isn’t a bad habit. In 2010, an Archives of Internal Medicine study followed 21123 smokers between 1978 and 2008. The dementia rate was twice as high for those who smoked more cigarettes per day than they did when they were older.
Even after the researchers adjusted for other factors such as education levels, race, age, and substance abuse, the results were still true. A 44 percent increase in dementia risk was seen for those who smoked between one and two packs of cigarettes per day. Even those who smoke the least amount have a 37% higher chance of developing dementia.
The good news is, those who quit smoking but did not develop dementia were not at increased risk. They had normal brain function into old age.
There is more research needed. Brain training is a proven method to increase intellectual ability and brain power. It ranks at the top of the list of top ten ways to increase your brain power.