10 Factors (That May Surprise You) Associated with Intelligence and Success

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I think it’s safe to say, we all want our kids to be smart and to succeed at making their dreams come true. And you’ve probably heard a lot of the standard advice for helping them to achieve a higher IQ. But the keys to success, go beyond teaching reading and math.  Some factors strongly associated with intelligence and success may surprise you:

  1. Playing the piano or a stringed instrument. In a study of 10-year-olds, those who had studied music for at least three years averaged 15% higher on verbal skills.
  2. Ability to delay gratification. A group of children were told they could have 1 treat (marshmallow, cookie, or pretzel) now, or they could have 2 rewards if they waited 15 minutes. Those who were able to wait scored 210 points higher on their SATs. Roberta Golinkoff, author of Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn—And Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less elaborates, indicating, “The ability to switch between tasks, hold things in your working memory, and inhibit impulses is much more connected with success than IQ.”
  3. Lots of books. A study showed that a child raised in a home containing at least 500 books was 36% more likely to graduate high school and 19% more likely to graduate from college than an otherwise similar child, from a home containing few or no books. “Children learn more from what we do than from what we say,” indicates psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, author of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids, “Parents who love to read demonstrate to their children that reading is interesting, enjoyable, and worthwhile.”
  4. Sleep. Missing an hour of sleep turns a sixth grader’s brain into that of a fourth grader, according to Sadeh, author of Nurture Shock. Additionally, in a study by Wahlstrom and an earlier study of 3000 Rhode Island high schoolers, researchers found that teens who received A’s averaged about fifteen minutes more sleep than the B students, who averaged about fifteen minutes more sleep than the C’s. Losing an hour of sleep at night also impacted children’s ability to regulate their emotions and impulses. The exact amount of sleep recommended per day varies by age.
  5. Healthy weight. A Temple University study revealed that overweight children scored 11% lower on national reading tests. The study also found worse attendance and more detentions among children with higher body mass. “Being sedentary has huge opportunity costs for children,” Golinkoff says. “If they’re watching TV or playing computer games, they’re not interacting—and many of the things that make us ‘smart’ are things learned only in the nexus of social interaction.”
  6. Preschool. One study of disadvantaged children in Michigan found that kids who attend preschool are 52% more likely to graduate from high school. By age 27, five times as many from the preschool group owned their own home. The non-preschoolers had been arrested eight times more often, by age 40 (twice as often for physical assault).
  7. Minimal computer and video games. Students who spent more than two hours per day playing computer and video games scored 9.4% lower on school exams than students who didn’t play computer and video games, according to one study.
  8. Supportiveness. Children whose mothers scored low on supportiveness during parent-child interactions were 10% less likely to be school-ready at age five, according to studies. Sensitivity, warmth and supportiveness promote success from a very early age. Parental stress can manifest itself it harsher or less supportiveness scores, so taking care of yourself may also help you to take care of your kids.
  9. Minimal pesticide exposure during pregnancy. Columbia University scientists found that the children of mothers who were exposed to pesticides while pregnant, had a 1.4% lower IQ, per unit of exposure. Pesticide exposure also impacts working memory.
  10. A “clean” pregnancy. According to studies, 38% of children of mothers who used cocaine during pregnancy are developmentally delayed. Studies have also shown likelihood of school readiness at age five is 10% lower for children whose mothers smoke during pregnancy. As for the million dollar question—alcohol—many studies show no correlation between very light drinking and IQ. They do show that moderate drinking during pregnancy affects a child’s IQ and heavy drinking can lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, characterized by facial deformities and mental retardation. The surgeon general, AAP and CDC all recommend no alcohol during pregnancy, but if you indulge anyway, just try to stop at one drink.


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