Our cognitive ability is not fixed. Scores on intelligence tests vary depending on the circumstances at the time of testing – how tired you are, how well nourished, how anxious you are. These are not the only factors that make a difference.
Andrew Lim and colleagues at Toronto University carried out tests on 3000 ‘older’ participants at different times of the year to assess cognitive functioning, measuring thinking and concentration skills, as well as physiological tests to look for early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
The outcome was that people who tested in Summer and early Autumn obtained significantly higher scores, than those tested in Winter and Spring.
Taking good care of yourself – resting, eating healthily, taking regular exercise and talking to your GP if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder – can all help combat this annual dip in cognitive ability, to a limited extent.
There are two types of intelligence to think about in this context: Crystallised and Fluid intelligence.
Crystallised intelligence– the ability to use learned knowledge and experience- remains constant throughout your life and while useful, it is not the most powerful way to increase your cognitive ability.
Fluid intelligence on the other hand, declines as we age, until we exercise it. This is the ability to use what you already know and have recently learnt to solve new problems in new settings – for example, to negotiate the underground system in a city you have never been to before.
The suggestions by many in this field, is if you want to increase your ability to become smarter, learn a new skill each day; perhaps learn to juggle, get to an new location without satnav or walk along a road you are not familiar with. The list is endless….