Intangible intelligence

We still have no clue about which genes in the human genome might be involved in our intelligence. Earlier reports on this topic were wrong, researchers in the United States have concluded after investigation.

Thanks to researchers in Australia, we now do know our intelligence will not necessarily decline when we get older, as has been supposed for a long time. These researchers compared intelligence tests of a group of seniors with the intelligence tests these same people performed during their youth. The conclusion is that the majority of people will keep more or less the same level of intelligence throughout their lives.

Information about link between genes and diseases is hugely popular. (© Monika Wisniewska - Fotolia.com)

Information about link between genes and diseases is hugely popular. (© Monika Wisniewska – Fotolia.com)

Popular
Information about genes that would be responsible for certain diseases is hugely popular. Anywhere in the media news pops up about for instance the discovery of a gene that may be involved in causing Alzheimer’s disease or a gene responsible for autism. Unfortunately, coverage of results of research into the link between genes and diseases often isn’t very accurate.

To make a news report interesting and comprehensible to the general public, the impression is created just one gene might be responsible for the development of a certain disease. And this certainly is not the case. Certain aberrations in certain genes may contribute to certain diseases. Firstly, because there’s hardly ever just one gene involved, but a combination of frequently more than one hundred genes.

In addition, those genes have to be activated to start this chain reaction that may lead to a certain disease. This eventual activation is influenced greatly by your lifestyle and your surroundings. Genes in a neutral state may possess certain aberrations, but won’t set off this damaging chain reaction that may result in the development of an illness.

Manipulating
During the past years, regularly also news reports appeared about an intelligence gene. Since we like to become even more clever than we already are, a lot of effort is put into looking for genes that may be responsible for our intelligence level.

Manipulating genes to get the wisdom of the owl? (© Kletr – Fotolia.com)

Manipulating genes to get the wisdom of the owl? (© Kletr – Fotolia.com)

Several scientific studies had already found certain genes that appeared to be involved in how intelligent a person would be. So, would it be possible to raise your intelligence level in the near future by manipulating these genes?

No, not for a long time, say scientists from Harvard university in the US. Using the best and most recent research equipment, they once again tested the genes that had seemed to be involved in intelligence. They concluded that none of these genes had a real, clear connection to intelligence. That previous investigators were wrong, was caused by the fact that they had to work with in the meantime outdated equipment, which was less precise.

So, for the time being, we have no clue about which genes might be involved in intelligence. Most likely, it will be thousands of genes in a complicated, combined play, just like in most other characteristics and diseases.

We do know, though, that intelligence has a hereditary component. But this heredity determines only for a part what your intelligence level will be. The other part, which appears to be about as large, is determined by factors in your environment, such as what you eat, where you live, how many years of education you get, and what the situation was like inside your mother’s womb.

Tests
What exactly is intelligence? Opinions are divided on this issue. According to Wikipedia, intelligence has been defined in many different ways such as in terms of one’s capacity for logic, abstract thought, understanding, learning, communicating, memory, planning, creativity, and problem solving. It can also be more generally described as the ability to perceive information and retain it as knowledge.

Opinions are divided on what intelligence is. (© iQoncept – Fotolia.com

Opinions are divided on what intelligence is. (© iQoncept – Fotolia.com)

Within the discipline of psychology, intelligence is measured via specialised tests, the IQ tests. IQ stands for intelligence quotient. This is a score derived from a standardised test designed to assess intelligence. First, a great number of people in the same age group are put through the test. Next, researchers calculate the number of points scored on the test by the largest part of the group. This number is the mean score for this test and it is defined as IQ score 100. Tests results that deviate from the mean will score above or below 100.

Although IQ tests are still used frequently, nowadays huge doubts exist about whether such a test really is a correct measure of someone’s intelligence. After all, these tests have very little in common with how someone functions in daily life.

Someone may end up with a score of 140 on an IQ test, but in daily life isn’t even able to buy a subway ticket. Another person may have a score of 80, but is perfectly able to keep his ground in daily life. Probably, an IQ test only measures a certain part of the far more reaching concept of intelligence.

Decline
Your intelligence level isn’t fixed at your birth, but is in constant development during your lifetime. For a long time, it was considered a fact that intelligence declines with ageing. Researchers of the university of Queensland in Australia have established that is not the case. While some people do lose a bit of their intelligence, others on the contrary succeed in becoming even smarter while ageing. But most of us turn out to stay more or less at the same level of intelligence during our lives.

Most of us will stay more or less as intelligent during our whole life. (© Andy Dean – Fotolia.com)

Most of us will stay more or less as intelligent during our whole life. (© Andy Dean – Fotolia.com)

The university of Queensland scientists used IQ tests to find out how a person’s intelligence develops during his life. They had test results of a couple of thousand children in Schotland at their disposal. These children were born between 1921 and 1935 and had all been put through IQ tests when they were eleven years old. The results of their tests were still available.

With great difficulty, the researchers were able to trace almost two thousand of those children, who in the meantime had reached the ages of 65 to 79. They were asked to once again participate in IQ testing.

The majority of the people who reached a certain score when they were children, had more or less the same score as seniors on an IQ test for their age group. In some cases, intelligence level had risen. In some other cases on the contrary, intelligence level had dropped.

On the basis of these deviant cases, the researchers now are investigating which factors may have contributed to the rise or the fall. Hopefully, this research will help to gain an insight into what is important to keep your mind sharp when growing older.

Image

Intelligent extraterrestrials  © Albert Ziganshin – Fotolia.com

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