Smarter on Drugs. Part 2.
May 28, 2007 by Peter Jameson
Enhancing memory is one issue but making people smarter and more able to contemplate complex ideas with greater ease somehow seems a good deal more problematic. Defining what it means to be 'smart' has frustrated psychologists for years and IQ and SAT tests are far from perfect indicators of success in the 'real world'.
Intelligence tests and in particular the IQ test, measure people's analytical skills, verbal comprehension, perceptual organization, working memory and processing speed. This type of intelligence is called 'psychometric intelligence' and although it is not the only type of intelligence, it is testable and therefore remains one of our primary gauges.
Some researchers believe in 'multiple intelligences' which are deemed to include even such things as athletic ability.
In 1904 an English psychologist name Charles Spearman reviewed the literature of the 19th century relating to intelligence and found that people who performed well on one intelligence test seemed to perform well on all others. Spearman theorized the existence of a 'general intelligence' (a 'g factor') that would be used to process differing domains and thus makes some people good at nearly every intelligence challenge.
Many investigations since 1904 have supported Spearman's ideas and the current consensus among scientists and psychologists is that the 'g factor' accounts for a great deal of the inconsistency in intelligence test scores.
More recently geneticists have discovered that even such seemingly abstract qualities as personality and intelligence are coded into our genetic blueprint. Studies of the genetic basis of 'g' are just beginning and because 'g' most likely arises from the influence of many genes the search will be a long one.
One study however has already found that a gene on chromosome 6 is linked to intelligence.
So called 'genetic brain mapping' might help the search and some scientists are now looking at the structural features such as size, volume, and so on, of the brains of many individuals, including twins, familial relatives and unrelated individuals. By scanning all these brains in magnetic resonance imaging machines and looking at the differences researchers have been able to determine which areas of the brain are most under the control of genes.
These studies have emerged only in the past three to four years and geneticists hope that once they know which brain areas are most affected by heredity that they will be able to figure out which genes are responsible for those regions. With this kind of reverse mapping the experts should be able to learn much more about the genetics of intelligence.
Smarter Or Simply Faster?
Scientists have isolated one gene involved in intelligence and others will surely follow. We now know which parts of the brain are influenced by particular genes and which parts correlate with high IQ.
We also know some of the neuro-chemicals involved in learning and memory and with this knowledge we will hopefully gain greater understanding of what needs to be manipulated in order to increase intelligence in people who were not blessed with large amounts of it in their genomes or further increase the intelligence of those who were.
Gene therapy in turn would then be able to insert, delete, turn on or turn off genes that were find to be associated with intelligence.
Whatever evolves we can be sure that cognitive enhancement drugs will be developed and that they will be both used and misused. In the same way that most people do not choose to alter their mood with Prozac it is my belief that our society will use the new memory drugs according to each individual's underlying philosophy and sense of self.
The few people who desire altered states will find the means and those who do not want to alter their sense of who they are will ignore the drugs.
Return to part 1 of the article