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IQ changes in teen years

20th October 2011

New research has suggested that the mental ability of teenagers can improve or decline on a greater scale than previously thought.

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The work, from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London and published in the journal Nature, carried out tests on teenagers at an average age of 14 and was then repeated when they were nearly 18.

They found improvement and deterioration, which conflicts with existing assumptions that intellectual capacity as measured by IQ stays roughly the same during life.

Professor Cathy Price, who led the research, said the results could be encouraging to those whose intellectual potential may improve but could also be a warning that early achievers may not maintain their potential.

She said: “We have a tendency to assess children and determine the course of their education relatively early in life. But here we have shown that their intelligence is likely to be still developing.

“We have to be careful not to write off poorer performers at an early age when in fact their IQ may improve significantly given a few more years.”

The findings have implications for how pupils are assessed.

During the research, 19 boys and 14 girls underwent a combination of brain scans and verbal and non-verbal IQ tests in 2004 and then in 2008.

The results show that a change in verbal IQ was found in 39% of the teenagers, with 21% showing a change in performance IQ - a test of spatial reasoning.

The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust under its programme of Understanding the Brain.

 

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