4 Ways to Help Raise Your Child’s IQ

Kidamentals is reprinting this blog with the permission of Daniel Willingham at www.danielwillingham.com/

Daniel Willingham earned his B.A. from Duke University in 1983 and his Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Harvard University in 1990. He is currently Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1992. Until about 2000, his research focused solely on the brain basis of learning and memory. Today, all of his research concerns the application of cognitive psychology to K-16 education.

The blog and comments can be viewed here:

As Mr. WIllingham states within the comments, “note it’s an article in a technical journal not one that was designed for advice to parents.”

This is in direct response to facts around benefits of enriched Formula for babies vs Formula that is not enriched. The concern from readers is that breast milk contains the same nutritional benefits as the enriched formula but the article fails to reference this fact.

In short, it should be noted that the article is not stating that feeding formula to infants is better for child education than breastfeeding. When it comes to formula vs breastfeeding, the key point is that research found benefits from “polyunsaturated fatty acids” that can be found in breast milk or some enriched formulas.

With that said, Kidamentals recommends reading this blog and considering the “four marquee findings” that may help increase a child’s IQ.

How to Make a Young Child Smarter


If the title of this blog struck you as brash, I came by it honestly: it’s the title of a terrific new paper by three NYU researchers (Protzko, Aronson & Blair, 2013). The authors sought to review all interventions meant to boost intelligence, and they cast a wide net, seeking any intervention for typically-developing children from birth to kindergarten age that used a standard IQ test as the outcome measure, and that was evaluated in a random control trial (RCT) experiment.

A feature of the paper I especially like is that none of the authors publish in the exact areas they review. Blair mostly studies self-regulation, and Aronson, gaps due to race, ethnicity or gender. (Protzko is a graduate student studying with Aronson.) So the paper is written by people with a lot of expertise, but who don’t begin their review with a position they are trying to defend. They don’t much care which way the data come out.

So what did they find? The paper is well worth reading in its entirety–they review a lot in just 15 pages–but there are four marquee findings.

First, the authors conclude that infant formula supplemented with long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids boosts intelligence by about 3.5 points, compared to formula without. They conclude that the same boost is observed if pregnant mothers receive the supplement. There are not sufficient data to conclude that other supplements–riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, zinc, and B-complex vitamins–have much impact, although the authors suggest (with extreme caution) that B-complex vitamins may prove helpful.

Second, interactive reading with a child raises IQ by about 6 points. The interactive aspect is key; interventions that simply encouraged reading or provided books had little impact. Effective interventions provided information about how to read to children: asking open-ended questions, answering questions children posed, following children’s interests, and so on.

Third, the authors report that sending a child to preschool raises his or her IQ by a little more than 4 points. Preschools that include a specific language development component raise IQ scores by more than 7 points. There were not enough studies to differentiate what made some preschools more effective than others.

Fourth, the authors report on interventions that they describe as “intensive,” meaning they involved more than preschool alone. The researchers sought to significantly alter the child’s environment to make it more educationally enriching. All of these studies involved low-SES children (following the well-established finding that low-SES kids have lower IQs than their better-off counterparts due to differences in opportunity. I review that literature here.)  Such interventions led to a 4 point IQ gain, and a 7 point gain if the intervention included a center-based component. The authors note the interventions have too many features to enable them to pinpoint the cause, but they suggest that the data are consistent with the hypothesis that the cognitive complexity of the environment may be critical. They were able to confidently conclude (to their and my surprise) that earlier interventions helped no more than those starting later.

Those are the four interventions with the best track record. (Some others fared less well. Training working memory in young children “has yielded disappointing results.” )

The data are mostly unsurprising, but I still find the article a valuable contribution. A reliable, easy-to-undertand review on an important topic.

Even better, this looks like the beginning of what the authors hope will be a longer-term effort they are calling the Database on Raising Intelligence–a compendium of RCTs based on interventions meant to boost IQ. That may not be everything we need to know about how to raise kids, but it’s a darn important piece, and such a Database will be a welcome tool.