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Peak Performance: How to raise your IQ by up to 14%

IQIt’s been a while (ok, a long while) since I’ve published anything I’ve written on here.  Truth be told, I went down a bit of a research rabbit hole for a while there.[i] At its depths, I learned a few things that I think you’re going to want to hear about, like how to raise your IQ by 13-14%.

You see, I used to think IQ and intelligence were fixed.  I was wrong.  As it turns out, not only can you change your IQ over time, you can change your IQ in real-time.  I’m about to explain how and why.

It boils down to this:  how you think, or the mindset you adopt, affects how well you think.

As I’ve written before, one of the most common mindsets I observe in negotiation is one of scarcity- the nagging feeling that there isn’t enough to go around.  It turns out that this is a (much) bigger problem than I even thought.  I want to show you why and what do to about it.

[~5-6 minute read from here]

The New Jersey Mall Experiment (this blew my mind)

In their New Jersey Mall experiment Professors Mullainathan (Harvard) and Shafir (Princeton) interviewed people at- as you might have guessed- a mall in New Jersey.  After a few questions to get background info and test their IQs they asked them this:

Imagine your car has some trouble that requires a $300 dollar repair.  Your insurance will cover half.  How would you make this decision?  Financially, would it be easy or hard?

They wanted to see if that question would have any effect on their scores.  Here’s what they found: nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  No matter your race, gender, household income, etc., people’s IQ scores didn’t change.

However, when they replaced $300 with a $3000 repair things got weird.  Really weird.  While most people’s IQ scores remained the same, there was, consistently, one type of person whose scores dropped.  And they dropped by a lot- up to 13-14 points (i.e.- 13-14% of an average IQ score).

This is freaking nuts.  It’s hard to understate how much dumber I’d be if you lopped 14 points off the top of my IQ.  It’s the difference between a “superior intelligence” and “average” one (or an “average” and a “borderline deficient” one).  It’s a stronger dulling effect than going an entire night without sleep.

Any guesses as to who experienced that drop?  It was low-income individuals (aka- the poor).  However, the underlying cause of this affects everyone from Tiny Tim to Scrooge McDuck.

Also, before you get all defensive and start trolling me for ‘poor shaming’  (pretty sure that’s a term), I want to point something out.  These findings don’t suggest that the poor have especially low IQs.  They don’t even show they have lower IQs.

There was no difference between low and high-income people who answered the $300 question or in their scores before the $3000 question was asked.  But after thinking about the $3000 repair, low-income subjects suffered a decline in their cognitive performance equal to about 13-14 IQ points.

What the hell is going on?

Ok, this is freaking weird.  Right?  I mean, how can one fictional question cause such a massive effect on your intelligence?

The reason, as Mullainathan and Shafir show conclusively in their outstanding new book[ii], is that it induces a mindset of scarcity- the feeling of having more needs than resources.  Thinking in terms of scarcity taxes the brain and your performance gets hammered as a result.

Intuitively this makes sense.  When your brain is preoccupied with not having enough of something, it’s hard to think clearly about anything else.  If you’re rich, the idea of spending $1500 on your car isn’t going to occupy much of your mental space.

But if you’re poor, simply considering that question can cause you to start thinking about financial difficulties in other areas of your life, reducing the mental resources available for the task at hand.

What’s fascinating is that in the Mall Experiment nobody actually has to make the $1500 repair.  It’s not the existence of scarce resources, but being primed to think in terms of scarcity has this effect on your IQ.

What’s worse is that this phenomenon isn’t limited to thinking about your car.  A mindset of scarcity regarding money, time, objects, possessions, intangibles like titles and even social interaction (being lonely, as it turns out, makes you perform worse on a host of tasks).  And in addition to its effects on IQ scarcity also has an extremely negative impact on creativity, perspective and self- control.

How this relates to negotiation

When people are in the middle of a conflict or negotiation, they’re almost always thinking there isn’t enough to go around.

One reason the feeling of scarcity is ubiquitous is that we spend so much energy trying to beat the other side.  Many people are reluctant to admit this (often even to ourselves), but I see it all the time.

Even those who don’t see themselves as aggressive worry about getting ‘taken’ or ‘losing’ to the other side.  The desire to “win” runs deep in western culture.[iii]  When money is on the table that need does not disappear. It goes up like a house on fire.

The problem is that if my goal is to win, I’ve just created scarcity out of thin air (by definition, we can’t both beat the other side).  In other words, over 30 years of research suggests that one of, if not THE most common goal in negotiation is making us dumb…er.

Anyone who has ever said something stupid when trying to win an argument should recognize this fact.

And, it explains a lot of what I see in my work.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched incredibly smart people struggle to solve basic problems because they’ve got scarcity on the brain.

A simple (though not easy) way to raise your IQ when you need it most.

First off, let’s face it: this is happening to you.  It happens to all of us.  We get caught up in the need to win.  This creates a scarcity mindset, which taxes your brain and affects your intelligence, creativity, self-control and perspective when you need them most.  Win–> lose.

Now, it’s probably not news that going around trying to “win” every conversation or even every negotiation is not a productive way to live your life. What likely IS news is that there are decades of research suggesting it’s not just your relationships that suffer, but your ability to effectively problem-solve too.

The good news is that adopting different, non-scarcity inducing goals can have tremendous effects on your cognition and, as a result, what you’re able to achieve.

You have the power before every conversation to simply ask yourself: “What am I trying to achieve?”.  Far too often the real answer to that question is something other than “solve the problem”.

It is not easy to manage the need to win, but it is something that’s almost entirely in your control.

I plan on writing more on this in the coming weeks/ months. If there are specific questions you have, please leave them in the comments section on below.




[i] If you want to know where this (and other forthcoming revelations) originated from, picture a man, alone in his office, buried under a stack of papers with titles like “How epistemic curiosity affects reward circuitry” and “Common and differential neural networks of emotion regulation: A comparative fMRI investigation”.  Lately I have gotten so caught up in the works of people like Dr. George Loewenstein, that things like friendships, nutrition and personal hygiene have been put on hold… please don’t tell anyone how I live.

[ii] Scarcity: The new science of having less and how it defines our lives.

[iii] If you’re looking to understand how pervasive competition is in your life/ want your head explode, go buy Alfie Kohn’s book No Contest

About the author: Hi I’m Dan Green, blogger, entrepreneur, documentary film producer and negotiation specialist. I’ve helped executives negotiate deals worth up to 400 million USD. But before you read on…

2 comments… add one

  • J. Tonnelle

    Thank you for this helpful FYI about this fascinating principle. I am in the midst of an intense contract negotation to construct a mixed-use residential project and have chosen to be very transparent with the bidders on what is our maximum budget. Some project sponsors are very deliberate about never divulging this information as it can embolden the construction bidders to manipulate the negotiation. Instead, I find transparency is the best policy in these type of matters, as it is integral to the building of mutual trust. Because trust is the cornerstone for any new business relationship, I feel it is important not to squander these initial relationship building opportunities by denying the ego’s will to dominate the dialogue. Not only will it help maitain or increase one’s IQ, it will prevent the weakened emotion of suspicion from ever hijacking your negotiation.

    • Dan

      Mr. Tonnelle, good to hear from you again. Transparency is certainly a good trust building mechanism. I wonder, what have you found re the type of bids that are coming in using this strategy vs. those of your competitors who are more opaque re their bottom line?

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