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Toddler Curiosity Found to Boost IQ

Research: Youngsters who show more exuberance and sociability score higher on intelligence tests when they are older.


Children who are outgoing and adventurous as toddlers have substantially higher IQs by the time they are preteens, according to new research by scientists studying how personality shapes intelligence.

Seeking links between childhood behavior and mental ability, scientists at USC and UC Riverside compared how eagerly youngsters sought out new experiences at age 3 and how well they performed on various tests of mental ability eight years later at age 11.

The most adventurous and curious 3-year-olds scored 12 points higher on total IQ when they were tested--"a substantial gain" over their shyer peers--the scientists reported today in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The children also showed superior scholastic and reading ability.

This measurable difference in mental ability held true for boys and girls, and across variations in ethnic background and income levels, the researchers said. The amount of parental involvement and education did not appear to matter either.

"It doesn't matter how you cut the pie; the effect shows up no matter what group you look at," said USC neuropsychologist Adrian Raine, who led the research team.

"It is like they are carrying their own Head Start program in their heads."

Adventurous Behavior Could Be Taught

There is considerable debate about the origins of intelligence; researchers have been unable to sort out the effects of genetics, family upbringing, nutrition and behavior. Studies of twins highlight hereditary influences, while laboratory experiments implicate the role of environment. Nature and nurture inevitably intertwine.

In this case, the research cannot show whether the children's outgoing curiosity as toddlers was the cause of their better scores on IQ tests or whether children who have higher IQs are, by nature, more curious and outgoing.

The researchers, however, believe that the toddlers' adventurous behavior is the cause and the IQ gain the effect. They also think that it may be possible to teach the helpful behavior to other children.

If their findings bear out, it could have "significant" implications for theories of how intelligence develops and "practical implications for how intelligence can be increased," the researchers reported.

Gregarious 3-year-olds, the researchers found, had higher intelligence scores than 3-year-olds who were skilled at assembling blocks, copying shapes or identifying people and objects.

"Young children who physically explore their environment, engage socially with other children, and verbally interact with adults create for themselves an enriched, stimulating, varied and challenging environment," Raine said.

This, in turn, results in "enhanced cognitive ability and better school performance."

Until now, no one had documented a link between how readily very young children seek out stimulation and their mental abilities later in life.

Raine is best known for more controversial work in seeking the roots of antisocial behavior.

In earlier studies, he has scanned the brains of convicted murderers for clues to the biology of violence. He has monitored heart rates, measured glucose metabolism and recorded brain wave patterns in search of a telltale signature that could predict aggressive behavior.

But in this newest research, Raine and his colleagues instead gained an insight into how personality molds the mind in a positive way.

In all, Raine and his colleagues studied nearly 1,800 boys and girls growing up on the isolated island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, as part of a long-running project on childhood health and development.

Some Children Create Enriched Environments

The researchers measured how often 3-year-old preschoolers engaged in conversations with other children and adults, how they played, how energetically they explored their surroundings, and how much generally they sought stimulating circumstances.

A battery of standard tests measured basic verbal, numeric and spatial abilities. In a bow to the island's local culture, the children were given sugar cane sticks to measure length, rocks to judge size, and a tea set to assess their ability to follow directions. Eight years later, the same children were given a variety of tests to measure intelligence, reading ability and scholastic achievement.

The findings, the researchers said, suggest that these more actively engaged children create for themselves a more enriched environment than traditional educational enrichment programs.

"This environment, in contrast to [educational] programs, can produce long-term IQ changes that last throughout childhood," they said.

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