Some even say that intelligence is a trait you are born with and is completely impervious to change . As if it were the color of your eyes, the height or shape of your hair.

If this were really the case, there would be no difference between people who have been educated and people who have never been to school, or people who have grown up in stimulating environments and people who have been raised in poverty.

We know that intelligence is housed in the most malleable and changeable organ of all. It is to be expected, then, that the intellect has the same properties and is susceptible to being trained and enhanced in various aspects.

One intelligence or several?

The models that theorize the composition of intelligence or intelligences are so many that we will not stop to examine them. But it is important to keep in mind that there is no single unifying theory, although they all speak more or less of the same thing and refer to the same psychological phenomenon.

When we talk about intelligence, we are talking about the capacity of our mind to face and adapt to the demands of the environment with the greatest speed and efficiency. These demands can be of all kinds, mathematical, linguistic, kinetic, musical, etc. Perhaps there is a single intelligence that manifests itself through these skills to a greater or lesser extent depending on the person, or perhaps they are separate intelligences that serve to successfully face different types of tasks. For the purpose of this article we will keep the general definition of intelligence as ability .

  • You may be interested in this article by psychologist Bertrand Regader: “The Theory of Multiple Intelligences of Howard Gardner”

Inherited intelligence

Through twin studies, we know that there is a strong correlation between the IQs of monozygotic twins separated at birth, while the correlation of IQs of genetically non-identical blood siblings is not as strong. Furthermore, when we take families with adopted children, we see that the IQ of adopted children correlates more with the biological parents than with the current ones .

Thus, we know that intelligence, or at least the IQ we obtain by measuring it, is largely determined by DNA. Some here would put the development of intelligence on hold and be content with this explanation. Fortunately, the question is more complex.

Trained intelligence

Just because you are born with a certain capacity does not mean that you will keep it forever for free . One can be born with a genetics that allows one to develop the legs of an athlete and end up atrophying them after hours and hours of sitting. Something similar happens with intelligence: those who do not train it end up stagnating it.

Stimulation-rich environments such as books or interactive games promote the intellectual development of children. We know this through adoption studies, where children from very impoverished backgrounds, when stimulated in adoptive families with higher purchasing power and more stimulation, manage to reach IQ levels well above average. It is not only families that play a fundamental role in intellectual development, schooling, the type of methodology that teachers use that has a decisive influence on children’s intelligence.

At this point someone will ask: if the environment is such a powerful force, can we not optimize the teaching methodology of schools to improve the intelligence of students? What is certain is that we can and that a multitude of projects have been developed over the last 30 years under this same premise.

The Intelligence Project

An example can be found in the Venezuelan Intelligence Project . This is a program from the 1980s aimed at improving the thinking skills of students and detecting how both the way of teaching and the teaching material itself could be optimized. The units of this program include lessons on reasoning, language comprehension, verbal reasoning, problem solving, decision making and inventive thinking.

What is innovative about the program is not only its content, but the way it is taught to students. Moving away from the traditional approach that considers learning to be only the transmission of knowledge, the program is groundbreaking because it sees learning as a process of preparation and incentive to manage one’s own personal development.

The results after the implementation of this program were positive. Teachers reported changes in academic performance, especially those applying the knowledge learned to other subjects. In addition, due to the more affective relationship generated between students and teachers, changes occur at the behavioral and affective level on students. This closer relationship between teacher and student has a facilitating impact on learning.

The North Carolina Alphabet Project

This project developed by the University of North Carolina in the 1970s aims to produce long-term positive effects on the intellectual development of children through high quality education, emphasizing early interventions that buffer the disadvantages of children from poor backgrounds.

It is a project that applies from birth to the age of five. In this program the children go five days a week to a center where they receive high quality educational care that addresses the intellectual needs of children through language and conversation activities, close care and educational games.

Not all children participate in the same games, the assignment of games is personalized. These interactive games between children and adults include some traditional games, such as “cucuta” or “peek-a-boo” in English, and as they develop, others are added that are more focused on specific concepts and skills.

Children who go through this program have higher proficiency in reading, math and a slight increase in IQ. These children also have a better school adjustment in terms of longer schooling, lower dropout rates, a higher percentage of children completing college, and a lower probability of becoming teenage parents.

Although the results should be interpreted with caution, in general it seems that this is a beneficial program for the intelligence of children that translates into greater academic competence and a better perspective for work in adult life.

These programs shed light on the relationship between training, both early and throughout schooling, and increased intellectual skills. The old view of intelligence as an immovable monolith has been discarded, for we now know that it is malleable and susceptible to change depending on how we educate it.