Researchers are discovering that only 50% of IQ is based on genetics. Environment determines the remaining half. Neurologists and other scientists are also pinpointing the myriad factors that elevate or decimate intelligence. PubMed.gov—the website of the USA’s National Institutes of Health and National Library of Medicine—lists 12,708 research studies that analyzed what makes us stupid or smart. Soon, I believe, we will be utilizing this data at home, in schools, and via government sanctions and support.
I’ve compiled below about twenty ways that IQ is impacted in its neonatal and natal delivery stages, plus two futuristic options that could further enhance the newborn's cognition. Examine the factors carefully and you’ll discover multiple ways you can biggie-up the brains of the next generation.
Full Term - Babies delivered at 40+ weeks have bigger heads and bigger brains, and enjoy an average 4.9 points higher IQ than premature infants, reports a 1994 study conducted by the Henry Ford Health Services Center, in Detroit, Michigan.
Gestational Exercise - Pregnant women who exercise 30 minutes a day can increase their baby’s IQ by 8 points, claims Richard E. Nisbett, author of Intelligence and How to Get It.
Omega 3 - Adding Omega 3 oils into Mom’s bloodstream will add 7.55 points to their Verbal IQ, suggests a 2008 UK study from Southampton General Hospital.
Iodine Deficiency & Supplementation - Expectant mothers who received iodine supplementation in geographical areas that had inadequate iodine in the diet elevated their children’s IQs by 12.45 IQ points. Children born 3.5 years after supplementation began received a boost of 17.25 points. The study was conducted in 2005 by Tianjin Medical University. The World Health Organization labels iodine deficiency the “single greatest preventable cause of mental retardation”—it causes cretinism and goiters.
Pesticides - A 2011 UC Berkeley study indicates that high prenatal (and postnatal) exposure to organophosphate pesticides caused a deficit of 7.0 IQ points.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (Heavy Alcohol Exposure) - Children afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome have an average IQ of 75, notes a 2009 study from the University of Bergen (Norway)
Moderate Prenatal Alcohol Exposure - Gestating women who imbibe two alcoholic drinks per day hamper their child’s IQ with a 7 point loss, claims a 1990 University of Washington study.
Cigarette Smoking - A 1996 University of Mons Hainaut, Belgium, study of women who smoked during pregnancy, concludes, alarmingly, “we found a difference of more than 15 IQ points in favor of the children of nonsmoking mothers.” A 2010 Estonian study of prenatal smoking impact by their National Institute for Health Development found a 3.3 point IQ deficit. A 2005 study by Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark, recorded a 6.2 IQ point difference. Other researchers have contested these claims.
Hydrocarbons (smog) - A 2009 Columbia University study revealed that NYC children prenatally exposed to air pollution suffered a 4.31 IQ loss. Children examined in a 2010 Columbia study in Krakow, Poland, showed a 3.8 point IQ loss.
Cocaine Exposure - A Drexel University study in 2008 indicated that boys prenatally-exposed to cocaine had lower IQs at 4, 6, and 9 years of age.
Maternal Stress (Elevated Cortisol) - A 2009 study of 832 children at UC San Francisco concluded that children exposed to elevated cortisol levels in the womb, caused by maternal stress, experienced an average verbal IQ loss of 3.83 points.
Valproate (anti-epileptic drug) Exposure - Children natal-exposed to Valproate had IQ scores up to 9 points lower than children exposed to other anti-epileptic medications, notes a 2009 Emory University study.
Excess Mercury - Reports vary, but a 2005 Harvard School of Public Health study concluded that excessive prenatal intake of mercury in fish can cost children up to 1.5 points in IQ. Other reports have been inconclusive.
Twins? - Multiple children that share a womb are at risk of receiving suboptimal nutrition for their developing brains, with adverse neurobiological effects. Heavier monozygotic twins have a verbal IQ that is up to 7.5 points higher than the lighter twin. Differentials undoubtedly increase with triplets, quadruplets, etc.
Teen Moms - The offspring of adolescent mothers scored 4.0 points lower on IQ tests, claims a 2009 University of Pittsburgh study. The children—studied at age 6—had a smaller average head circumference than kids of adult mothers.
Artificial Wombs - A futuristic option to safeguard fetus intelligence is Artificial Wombs. These contraptions are still a few decades away, but imagine: fetuses would be safe inside them, sheltered from potential chemical abuse, fed nourishing amounts of Omega-3, “exercised” regularly in rolling motions, and delivered without danger at a large healthy size, perhaps ten or twelve pounds. Plus, there’d be no sensory deprivation—as opponents fear—they’d be sung to, and cooed at, by recordings of their parents’ voices.
Parent Licenses - Defining parenthood as a privilege that needs to be earned, not a guaranteed natural right, would do wonders for global IQ. If women who are destined to damage their baby’s cognitive abilities—because they drink alcohol excessively, chain-smoke, or ingest brain-damaging drugs—were deprived of childbearing opportunities, it would elevate global IQ. If it’s illegal to smash a person’s head against a wall, subjecting them to brain damage, why isn’t it illegal to flood the noggin of a fetus with elements that cripple cognition?
Breech Birth - Males born via breech birth have approximately a 7 point lower IQ than boys who were born in cephalic presentation, claims a 1999 University of Aarhus, Denmark, study.
Vacuum? Elective C-Section? - A 1979 German study published in Z Geburtshilfe Perinatol indicated that children “spontaneously born” had an IQ of 108.7. This was significantly lower than children born aided by a c-section (114.4), forceps (116.6) or vacuum (117.7). Another study, in 1991 from Huron Road Hospital, in East Cleveland, Ohio, revealed that IQs of children born via emergency c-section after prolonged labor were “significantly lower” than those delivered after elective c-section with no labor.
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About Hank Pellissier
Hank Pellissier is the editor of Transhumanity.net. Previously to that he was Managing Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology (IEET). He's also been a columnist at the NYTimes/Bay Citizen, Salon.com, and SFGate.com, and feature writer for numerous publications. He's the author of Invent Utopia Now, and Why is the IQ of Ashkenazi Jews so High?