Poor people have IQs significantly lower than those of rich people, and the awkward conventional wisdom has been that this is in large parta function of genetics.

After all, a series of studies seemed to indicate that IQ is largelyinherited. Identical twins raised apart, for example, have IQs that areremarkably similar. They are even closer on average than those offraternal twins who grow up together.

If intelligence were deeplyencoded in our genes, that would lead to the depressing conclusion thatneither schooling nor anti-poverty programs can accomplish much. Yetwhile this view of IQ as overwhelmingly inherited has been widely held,the evidence is growing that it is, at a practical level, profoundlywrong.

Richard Nisbett, a psychology professor at the Universityof Michigan, has just demolished this view in a superb new book,Intelligence and How to Get It**," which also offers terrific advice foraddressing poverty and inequality in America.

Nisbett providessuggestions for transforming your own urchins into geniuses — praiseeffort more than achievement, teach delayed gratification, limitreprimands and use praise to stimulate curiosity — but focuses on howto raise America's collective IQ. That's important, because while IQdoesn't measure pure intellect — we're not certain exactly what itdoes measure — differences do matter, and a higher IQ correlates togreater success in life.

Intelligence does seem to be highlyinherited in middle-class households, and that's the reason for thefindings of the twins studies: Very few impoverished kids were includedin those studies. But Professor Eric Turkheimer of the University ofVirginia has conducted further research demonstrating that in poor andchaotic households, IQ is minimally the result of genetics — becauseeverybody is held back.

"Bad environments suppress children's IQs," Turkheimer said.

Onegauge of that is that when poor children are adopted intoupper-middle-class households, their IQs rise by 12 to 18 points,depending on the study. For example, a French study showed thatchildren from poor households adopted into upper-middle-class homesaveraged an IQ of 107 by one test and 111 by another. Their siblingswho were not adopted averaged 95 on both tests.

Anotherindication of malleability is that IQ has risen sharply over time.Indeed, the average IQ of a person in 1917 would amount to only 73 ontoday's IQ test. Half the population of 1917 would be consideredmentally retarded by today's measurements, Nisbett says.

Goodschooling correlates particularly closely to higher IQs. One indicationof the importance of school is that children's IQs drop or stagnateover the summer months when they are on vacation (particularly for kidswhose parents don't inflict books or summer programs on them).

Nisbettstrongly advocates intensive early childhood education because of itsproven ability to raise IQ and improve long-term outcomes. TheMilwaukee Project, for example, took African-American childrenconsidered at risk for mental retardation and assigned them randomlyeither to a control group that received no help or to a group thatenjoyed intensive day care and education from 6 months of age untilthey left to enter first grade.

By age 5, the children in theprogram averaged an IQ of 110, compared with 83 for children in thecontrol group. Even years later in adolescence, those children werestill 10 points ahead in IQ.

Nisbett suggests putting less moneyinto Head Start, which has a mixed record, and more into theseintensive childhood programs. He also notes that schools in theKnowledge Is Power Program (better known as KIPP) have testedexceptionally well and he favors experiments to see if they can bescaled up.

Another proven intervention is to telljunior-high-school students that IQ is expandable, and that theirintelligence is something they can help shape. Students exposed to thatidea work harder and get better grades. That's particularly true ofgirls and math, apparently because some girls assume that they aregenetically disadvantaged at numbers; deprived of an excuse forfailure, they excel.

"Some of the things that work are verycheap," Nisbett noted. "Convincing junior high kids that intelligenceis under their control — you could argue that that should be in thejunior high curriculum right now."

The implication of this newresearch on intelligence is that the economic-stimulus package shouldalso be an intellectual stimulus program. By my calculation, if we wereto push early childhood education and bolster schools in poorneighborhoods, we just might be able to raise the United Statescollective IQ by as much as 1 billion points.

That should be a no-brainer.


Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune