For decades it was widely-believed that a person's intellect depended solely on genetics, and that the brain was fully formed and "concrete" by the age of seven. This is completely wrong. Neuroscientists have found that the human brain continues developing until the age of 25, and even after it's developed we have something called nueroplasticity; nueropasticity means one can rewire their brain, grow new synapses, and even cause structural change. The result? Improved cognitive function at any age. Here are three proven methods to raise one's intellect.
Learn a Language
Having visited Thailand for several months and now living on and off in Argentina, I have had to learn two other languages. Languages are complex and learning them is challenging. Not only do you have to memorize new words, patterns of speech, placement of nouns and verbs, sounds, slang, and context, but you have to learn to think differently.
One example of this is the fact that there are masculine and feminine words in all the Latin languages (Italian, French, Portuguese, and Spanish). As a native English speaker, this was a completely alien concept to me. But, after a while, one starts to look at inanimate objects as either masculine or feminine. Bicycle in Spanish is bicicleta, a feminine word. After hearing it hundreds and hundreds of times, I began to think of bicycles as womanly.
In order to learn a second language, an individual must grow new synapses in the brain to make these new connections. This means you develop new thought patterns. One doesn't simply learn new words and start babbling. You learn to think in another tongue and, in doing so, you become much smarter.
Amazon Price: $499.00 $299.00 Buy Now
(price as of May 8, 2014)
Exercise Grows New Brain Cells
So much for meat-headed jocks and sportsman being mindless dunces. Research and observation has now shown that exercise grows new brain cells.
Astrid Bjornebekk and her colleagues working out of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have witnessed the growth of new brain cells in rats. Over the course of 30 days, one group of rats were given access to a running wheel while the remaining rats were not. For the rats who were exercising, there was a dramatic increase in neurons (brain cells). The rats without access to a running wheel showed no such increase.
We share over 92% of our genetic material with rats. What works on them almost always works on humans and vice versa.
Meditation Causes Changes in Brain Structure
Meditation is usually seen as religious practice or connected to new-age spirituality, but there are a whole host of practical physical and psychological benefits that come with meditation: increased focus; more compassion; lower blood pressure; a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety; an increase in emotional intelligence; and improved immune function. Neuroscientists have also shown that meditation causes structural changes to the human brain.
Meditation causes an increase in gray matter (gray matter has the highest concentration of brain cells) in the frontal lobes of the brain, and the hippocampus. These areas of the brain are responsible for memory, emotion, decision-making, and overall self control. When one increases the amount of gray matter in these regions of the brain, they are able to make better decisions, think more clearly, keep their emotions under control, and approach life more rationally. Rationality, as scientists and philosophers know, is the foundation for any intellectual inquiry. Meditation has even been shown to preserve and regrow gray matter in the elderly.
To put it as simply as possible, meditation causes brain growth and brain growth makes you smarter.
There are other honorable mentions in increasing one's intellect, such as doing word puzzles and learning to play an instrument, but the three listed here seem to be the most effective. They are available to everyone, and people of all ages and walks of life can benefit from them. One's brain is not a muscle, but the same principals as exercise can be applied to an increase in IQ: train hard and train consistently.