Marrying a spouse or befriending people cleverer than you are may be intimidating, but new research suggests that being surrounded by them can actually help boost your intelligence quotient (IQ).

Intelligence has long been thought to turn static when a person turns 18, but a New Zealand-based psychologist says it can grow all through adulthood, especially for people with stimulating lifestyles.

Researcher James Flynn says families where people challenge, talk, discuss, joke and share cultural pastimes can improve the IQ of members by several points.

Similarly, workplaces that carry out intellectual challenges on employees can raise their individual IQ over the years, he says.

Flynn, whose new book "Does Your Family Make You Smarter?" is released in June, says new evidence suggests that intelligence is not fixed.

Instead, the brain is like a muscle -- the more you "flex" it, the stronger it gets. This means you can upgrade your intelligence as you progress through life.

What's the best way to boost your IQ then?

Flynn says marrying a person more intelligent than you are, finding an intellectually challenging job or hanging out with bright friends could upgrade your intelligence level.

"Any of these things could raise your own intelligence," says Flynn.

The Flynn Effect

Flynn, who is a professor in Otago University, is well known for his discovery of the long-term increase in intelligence in advanced countries.

The increase supposedly began in the 1930s and populations have seen an average IQ rise by three points 10 years since. This increase is called the "Flynn Effect."

Although the phenomenon's cause has yet to be understood, scientists think it is linked to a combination of factors, including better education, better nutrition and a world that continues to grow into something more complex and more intellectually challenging.

Still, Flynn's previous research took years before being accepted by peers, and his new study might just be equally controversial.

How Other People Help Boost Your IQ

The general agreement among the scientific community is that intelligence is controlled by genes. Environmental factors such as education and nutrition play a part until a person turns 18. At this point, the IQ "stabilizes."

Flynn's new research organized 65 years' worth of intelligence tests and matched results with the age of the people tested.

This new "IQ Age Table" points to two conclusions: the cognitive quality of family members alters IQs of all relatives, especially children. A bright child aged 10 whose siblings have average IQ will score five points below compared with a child whose siblings are equally bright, he says.

On the other hand, kids with low IQ can receive a six- to eight-point boost by having brighter siblings and special education.

Flynn argues that the effect is strongest during early years. A child's arithmetic skills are strongly controlled by the environment at home up to age 12. His verbal skills are affected as he grows into adolescence.

Meanwhile, the second conclusion is that although early life experiences and genetics affect 80 percent of IQ, the rest is linked to the lifestyle as adults. Everyone can boost their IQ or allow it to drop by about 10 points or more.

Flynn says your cognitive quality lies in your own hands. "Your IQ can vary through life according to your own efforts," he adds.

Photo: Anthony Kelly | Flickr

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