If you’re old enough, you may remember a time, maybe back in your childhood, when someone measured your intelligence and assigned a number to it. I suspect that you have been either proud of that “IQ,” or perhaps a little bit chagrined about it, from that day to this. The general belief back then was that intelligence was a genetic endowment, along with eye color or a propensity for baldness.
We now know this is simply not true. Your brain — every brain — is a work in progress. It is “plastic.” From the day we’re born to the day we die, it continuously revises and remodels, improving or slowly declining, as a function of how we use it. If a brain is exercised properly, anyone can grow intelligence, at any age, and potentially by a lot. Or you can just let your brain idle — and watch it slowly, inexorably, go to seed like a sedentary body.
Recent studies of brain development in teenagers may finally give parents the scientific authority to say “No you’re not!” in answer to the common adolescent complaint, “But I’m old enough to make my own decisions!” That authority comes from brain imaging studies that reveal some surprising features of the adolescent brain. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd and colleagues […]
Everyone knows the popular myths about the two brain hemispheres: The right brain is artistic, musical, spatial, intuitive, and holistic; the left brain is linear, rational, analytical, and linguistic. There is some truth in these labels. But, not surprisingly, they are mostly oversimplifications of tendencies, not fixed rules. A May 1998 issue of Science reported […]
The Nature of Things There is something ethereal about human intelligence, something hard-to-pin-down. It’s hard even to define. Is intelligence the ability to reason? Does it have to do with memory? Is it aptitude with language? With mathematics? All of the above? Plenty of folks would go so far as to say that you just […]
I’ve focused much of the past two years on the underlying neurobiology of adolescence. Corwin Press recently published the result of my efforts,The Adolescent Brain: Reaching for Autonomy (2007). Adolescence has been integral to much of my life. Like all adults, I was once an adolescent. My wife and I have seven children who made […]
A cheerful English voice, crisp and elegant, asked her the question again. “How many coins do you have there, Signora?” Signora Gaddi stared at the coins in her hand for a long time, and then looked up to smile apologetically at the doctor. It was a soft smile, warm, but tenuous and sad. The corners […]
A tiny, pixilated soldier dodges past burning embers and ruined walls. His guide, a young boy watching through a computer monitor, knows that just ahead, beyond a darkened doorway and a hairpin left turn, the soldier will find a floating white medical kit to nourish and soothe his battered body. He will recharge, then navigate […]
Last month’s column described the cognitive systems that process our interactions with natural and electronic environments. Some recent provocative research rejects the conventional wisdom that extensive interactions with electronic media provoke culturally inappropriate behavior and reduce problem-solving abilities — dumb down society, as it were. This month’s column will thus focus on Steven Johnson’s analysis […]
The Lone Ranger and Gangbusters were popular radio programs when I was a child. Such programs and the Superhero comic books that also emerged at that time were criticized for glorifying violence and diminishing the mental potential of young people—who adults thought should rather read a good book or go outside and play. Films, television, […]
The two previous columns focused on recent proposals about the roles that prediction and intuition play in intelligent thought and behavior. This month’s column will focus on wisdom, one of the rewards we can get from an extended intellectually stimulating life. Elkhonon Goldberg explores the underlying neurobiology of this intriguing concept in his fascinating informative […]