Gifted child? Study shows kids' IQs can change during the teen years

Think your kid is a genius? Maybe she is-for now. But according to a new study, that genius-level IQ score can, and probably will, change-especially during the teenage years.

The study, "Verbal and non-verbal intelligence changes in the teenage brain," which was published this week in the international journal "Nature," focused on 33 kids age 12 to 16. Researchers at the University College London used neuroimaging to test whether fluctuations in the kids' IQ test scores might be linked to brain development. They tested the same kids again four years later, and were surprised by the results: Though the group's average IQ remained about the same, some teens' scores had gone up by as much as 20 points, while others had fallen by nearly as much.

"A change in 20 points is a huge difference," lead researcher Cathy Price told in an email interview. "If an individual moved from an IQ of 110 to an IQ of 130, they move from being 'average' to 'gifted.' And if they moved from 104 to 84, they move from being 'high average' to 'below average'."

After evaluating the brain scans and taking a close look at how a teenager's brain structure changes during adolescence, Price and her team noticed that they "were able to see that the degree to which their IQ had changed was proportional to the degree to which different parts of their brain had changed," Price explained to NPR.

The test subjects' verbal IQ scores were linked to the portion of the brain that's activated by speech, and the non-verbal IQ scores were affected by the part of the brain that deals with finger movement. And that's what was so surprising: "General verbal and non-verbal abilities are closely linked to the sensorimotor skills involved in learning," the researchers wrote in the study. One possible translation: Honing your learning skills may also up your IQ.

IQ has long been a controversial concept. Though some consider it an absolute and unchangeable measurement of a person's intelligence, others insist that it's more of tool to assess a person's knowledge and ability to think, and that it can change as a person matures. Other things-including a child's personality and the environment in which he or she is raised-can also have an effect on brain development, which in turn may lead to a change in IQ, the study suggests.

The bottom line is that a high IQ doesn't necessarily come with long-term bragging rights-and a low score early on shouldn't doom a child to a lifetime of low expectations. "This would be encouraging to those whose intellectual potential may improve," the researchers point out, "and would be a warning that early achievers may not maintain their potential."

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