Lately I’ve run across a slew of articles suggesting ways we can all get smarter. One article loaded with thirty-one such tips pledged not only to make us smarter, but to do it fast. Perhaps someone figured out that our plummeting attention spans, shrinking vocabularies and eagerness to be featured on reality TV shows is becoming a national security risk.
I would also like to become smarter as fast as possible, and I realized that firming up the gray matter involves more than just popping blueberries and swilling pomegranate juice. Therefore, I launched Operation Higher I.Q. by taking an online test to measure my brain acuity.
After answering many questions about my personal life, including how often I ate fish, exercised, tackled Sudoku puzzles and met with friends, I scored a B+. Respectable, but I resented losing points for drinking several cups of caffeinated coffee a day and failing to travel to foreign countries to expand my intellectual horizons. Besides, I read about a study proving that lab rats zapped with jolts of caffeine displayed greatly sharpened brain connections. Who am I to argue with a lab full of java-crazed rats?
The web site that tested my brain battery also offered loads of wit-sharpening exercises, so I went to work: calculating simple math problems that popped up at increasingly rapid rates, trying to pinpoint where both a bird and a numeral had fleetingly appeared on a map, filling in “word bubbles,” and attempting other mindful feats. When I scored 1,217 points, I felt smart. But when I realized that I couldn’t find out what my score really meant until I paid to become a member of their brainy club, I felt the sensation of several points falling from my I.Q.
Fatigued by those cerebral calisthenics, I took a break to review those articles about how to fire up my noggin’s neurons and keep them humming like a well-oiled thinking machine. Researchers believe that engaging in particular activities could help boost I.Q. by as much as 21 points, while failing to nurture the noodle could also cost nearly that many points. The brain’s capacity to change this way is called neuroplasticity. Believe me, adding this word to my vocabulary made me think I might actually become a genius.
Not surprisingly, some of the advice I read was contradictory. For example, aerobic exercise is a surefire way to buff the brain, but on the other hand napping refreshes the brain and lets us hang on to new information. In one study, students who took a 90-minute nap in the afternoon after trying to learn 120 new names and faces remembered more of them than the non-nappers. Duh! Leave it to a well-funded university study to prove the obvious. If those college students can figure out how to land grown-up jobs that still give them a generous naptime, they really will be smart.
Some advice about getting smarter was just dumb. One “expert” claims we should frown more than we smile, since the act of frowning increases skepticism and makes us more analytical. Maybe, but it also makes you lose friends. Fuggetaboutit.
Foodwise, I seem to be doing right by my bean. I eat as much dark chocolate as I dare, and my husband enjoys red wine with dinner several evenings a week. (Both contain memory-boosting flavonoids.) Yogurt is also supposed to be good for the brain, so I’m in good stead there, too. (Must be all those active cultures inside!) This leaves turmeric as the only problem brain-boosting comestible. Maybe it does help prevent dementia, but golly, how much turmeric can anybody eat? And once it gets on your clothes, good luck getting it out.
Despite my initial goal, I suspended Operation Higher IQ after one week. I decided that playing online games to ramp up my IQ was probably not as useful as reading books that contain words such as neuroplasticity, or 18th century literature whose average sentence contains as many words as would fit in eight Twitter feeds. I will also continue to hit the gym when I can, read good books as often as I can, and redouble my efforts to make sure I am never deprived of brain-boosting caffeine, the occasional afternoon nap, and of course – dark chocolate.
Hey, maybe I’m getting smarter already!
Judy Gruen is the author of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools, as well as several award-winning humor books. Read more of her work on www.judygruen.com.