exercise-and-iqA recent article in the New York Times asks whether exercise actually increases cognition, or whether the correlations between the two are merely a placebo effect.

Short answer?

“The results from our study suggest that the benefits of aerobic exercise are not a placebo effect,” said Cary Stothart, a graduate student in cognitive psychology at Florida State University, who led the study.

…the findings are strong enough to suggest that exercise really does change the brain and may, in the process, improve thinking, Mr. Stothart said.

iq and schizophreniaA new study in the American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP in Advance, November 2014) has found that IQ and schizophrenia are closely linked, across the entire IQ range. On average, a 1-point lower IQ increases the risk of schizophrenia by 3.8%;  this association was strongest in the lower IQ range.

Likewise, “genetic susceptibility for schizophrenia had a much stronger impact on risk of illness for those with low than high intelligence,” the study found. “The IQ-genetic liability interaction arose largely from IQ differences between close relatives.”

The subjects of the study were 1.2 million Swedish males born between 1951 and 1975, whose IQs were measured at ages 18–20.

The study also found that the lower IQs were not caused by the onset of schizophrenia itself (i.e. “insidious onset“), and that there was no evidence of a link between genius and schizophrenia. Previous studies have found that such a link does indeed exist.

brain-trainingAs Todd Essig reports at Forbes, despite $1.3 billion that Americans spend on brain training games, a group of almost 100 leading brain scientists recently published a document that they’ve called “A Consensus on the Brain Training Industry from the Scientific Community.”

Their main finding is that brain training games may improve your gaming skills, but not your IQ. In other words, the skills that these games improve do not transfer broadly to other skills. And to the extent that they do transfer at all, they certainly do not transfer to boosting general intelligence.

As the signatories write: “The strong consensus of this group is that the scientific literature does not support claims that the use of software-based ‘brain games’ alters neural functioning in ways that improve general cognitive performance in everyday life, or prevent cognitive slowing and brain disease.”

That may mean more bad news for the brain training business, but evidence for the benefits of brain zapping (e.g. tDCS) continues to accumulate, with now even CNN doing an obligatory article about it.


molding-iqMore evidence from Florida State University’s Kevin Beaver that parents do not and indeed cannot influence their children’s IQ levels.

As FSU ‘s news site reports, activities like reading bedtime stories and eating nightly dinners together can indeed help to enhance kids’ social skills. But alas, they do not “have any detectable influence on children’s intelligence later in life.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean that how parents choose to raise their children is meaningless. But, as Beaver told the FSU news site, “the way you parent a child is not going to have a detectable effect on their IQ as long as that parenting is within normal bounds.”

As the research paper itself says, “the results of these statistical models indicate that family and parenting characteristics are not significant contributors to variation in IQ scores.”

This isn’t exactly news; author and researcher Judith Rich Harris drew the much same conclusion in her 1998 classic “The Nurture Assumption“.

tdcs-alzheimersThe benefits of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) continue to expand. In addition to the well-known cognitive enhancing effects, recent research has also shown that tDCS can help with depression, schizophrenia, weight loss, and much more.

Now a new study just published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience shows that tDCS also improves cognition in Alzheimer’s patients [update: full PDF available here].

A group of 34 patients suffering from Alzheimer’s were given a daily treatment of tDCS for 25 minutes, over a period of ten days. Some received “real” tDCS, while others were given a sham version for control purposes.

The patients’ IQs were also tested at the beginning of the treatment, and then again one and two months after the end of the sessions.

There were “significant” improvements in the IQ scores of patients who underwent the real tDCS treatment, and no such improvements in the sham group.

The researchers concluded that repeated sessions of tDCS can improve cognitive function. In the near future, electrical stimulation of this kind may largely replace the need for traditional medicine to treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s. In fact, the latest issue of Scientific American Mind has an article about that very topic.