Supplementing children’s diets with fish oil, enrolling them in quality preschool, and engaging them in interactive reading are all effective ways to raise a young child’s intelligence level, according to a new report.
Using a technique known as meta-analysis, a research team led by John Protzko, a doctoral student at New York University, combined the findings from existing studies to evaluate the effectiveness of each type of intervention.
“Our aim in [this research] is to learn what works and what doesn’t work to raise people’s intelligence,” said Protzko. “For too long, findings have been disconnected and scattered throughout a wide variety of journals. The broad consensus about what works is founded on only two or three very high-profile studies.”
Results of the meta-analyses indicated that certain dietary and environmental interventions can be effective in raising children’s IQ, according to the researchers.
The analysis found that supplementing the diets of pregnant women and newborns with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as foods rich in omega-3, was found to boost children’s IQ by more than 3.5 points. These essential fatty acids — also found naturally by eating fish — may help raise intelligence by providing the building blocks for nerve cell development that the body cannot produce on its own, the researchers postulate.
There is insufficient research, however, to determine whether other types of supplements — including iron, B-complex vitamins, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, and zinc — have beneficial effects on intelligence, they noted.
Interventions focused on interactive reading — teaching parents how to engage their children while reading with them — were found to raise children’s IQ by more than 6 points. This tactic did not seem to have an effect for children over 4 years old, suggesting that it may accelerate language development, which, in turn, boosts IQ, the researchers speculate.
Sending a child to preschool was found to raise his or her IQ by more than 4 points, and preschools that include a language development component were found to boost IQ by more than 7 points. The link between preschool and intelligence could be a function of increased exposure to language or the result of the overall cognitive complexity of the preschool environment.
All of the studies in the database rely on a normal population (participants without clinical diagnoses of intellectual disabilities), focus on interventions that are sustained over time, use widely accepted measures of intelligence, and are randomly controlled trials (participants selected at random to receive one of the interventions).
“The larger goal here is to understand the nature of intelligence, and if and how it can be nurtured at every stage of development,” said Aronson, Protzko’s advisor. “This is just a first step in a long process of understanding. It is by no means the last word. In fact, one of the main conclusions is how little high quality research exists in the field and how much more needs to be done.”
The collaboration on the new paper was done with NYU psychology professors Drs. Joshua Aronson and Clancy Blair. The researchers analyzed the best available studies involving samples of children from birth and kindergarten from NYU’s new Database of Raising Intelligence.
The report was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.