One discovery we have come to realize as significant is how the brain state of a child or adult can impact many aspects of his thinking, feeling and capability. Consider this: it is easy to empathize with the child if I were to put you in an intense state of fear by threatening harm to you physically, and at the same time ask you to try to solve a complex algebra problem, you probably would not be able to do that problem very well. The reason you would have difficulty is because you would be using the lower part of your brain. So, your brain state would be “in terror.” When your brain state is in an emotional mode, you would not be able to do cognitive problem solving at that point in time.
Brain states and your IQ
However, even more revealing is how brain states can have impact to one’s functional IQ. Dr. Bruce Perry, a good friend of ours, and The Child Trauma Academy are publishing some astounding research that measures the functional IQ of a child in varied brain states.
It is rather amazing that when a child is in a state of fear, his functional IQ can drop up to 40 points. If a child is in a state of terror, his IQ can drop up to 50 points.
So if a child has a normal IQ of 110 when calm and functioning normally then is placed in a state of fear or terror, their IQ declines to range 60-80. This drastic drop can explain why children may have completely different capabilities depending on the environment surrounding them.
Getting the story straight?
Picture a frustrated (and perhaps) angry parent trying to get a child to explain why he did something that appeared foolish. Typically, the child responds with shrugged shoulders followed by “I don’t know!”
Thus, with the knowledge that intense fear can drop a child’s functional IQ, it is logical to ask, “Is this child confused by his own behavior and doesn’t have an answer?” Or is the child so fearful that his IQ has dropped to the point he is incapable of responding cogently?
Now think about a typical classroom situation.
A student has just been asked to take a test that will affect a grade in that class. She may not completely understand the material and feels a great deal of pressure to do well on the test. So, she moves from a brain state of calm when entering the class to a state of alarm or fear anticipating the test. As a result, she struggles to come up with answers she studied the previous night. It seems logical her brain state is fearful which may deter her ability to retain and recall information to test well.
Understanding this research is compelling! We now realize that the environment that we create for children and students is very important to their ability to think and process. The greater the fear a child has, the less their functional IQ.
Therefore, it makes sense that if we want to help children and students perform to their maximum potential, we will help create an environment where they can “live” in the neocortex part of their brain where they are most calm and alert. Conversely, creating fear will move them to the midbrain or brainstem where they will be unable to achieve the same brain capability that they could in a calm state.
It follows that in parenting, being calm will help our children think and process more clearly. And if we as teachers take time to calm our students prior to a test or project, we should see their scores rise.
Logically adjusting our expectations.
In our world where children reside with intense violence, we can expect them not to perform as well cognitively as children who are not living in a violent environment. If there is physical or emotional abuse in a child’s home, it is predictable that they will not be able to perform well in school. The examples are endless.
I will keep posting on this topic because it is such vital research to know for those who care for or work with children. It certainly is intuitively correct, but now we have good research to validate this important truth. How different could our homes, schools and communities be if we were to take this information seriously and provide safe and calm environments?
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network