IQ, the standard measure of intelligence, can increase or fall significantly during our teenage years, according to new research, and these changes are associated with changes to the structure of our brains. The findings may have implications for testing and streaming of children during their school years.
Over the four year study, Professor Cathy Price and her team of researchers found some subjects improved their performance, relative to people of a similar age, by as much as 20 points on the standardised IQ scale; in other cases, performance fell by a similar amount. The MRI scans revealed changes in the structure of the subjects’ brains.
‘We have to be careful not to write off poorer performers at an early stage’
According to Professor Price it is not clear why IQ can change so much and why it improved in some people and declined in others. She says it is possible that the differences are due to some of the subjects being early or late developers, but it is equally possible that education played a role in changing IQ, and this has implications for how school children are assessed.
“We have a tendency to assess children and determine their course of education relatively early in life, but here we have shown that their intelligence is likely to be still developing,” says Professor Price. “We have to be careful not to write off poorer performers at an early stage when in fact their IQ may improve significantly given a few more years.
“It’s analogous to fitness. A teenager who is athletically fit at 14 could be less fit at 18 if they stopped exercising. Conversely, an unfit teenager can become much fitter with exercise.”
The study by researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London) and the Centre for Educational Neuroscience was published in the journal Nature.