Based on a variety of studies in recent decades on both IQ and EQ, it looks likely that meditation has the capacity to increase both your intelligence and emotional intelligence. Not only that—meditation can increase the physical size of your brain and help it work better.
Let’s review what the scientific research says on meditation and intelligence, and explore whether meditation can make you smarter.
Can meditation increase IQ?
Research indicates that meditation increases IQ.
IQ tests measure skills like working memory, decision-making, analytical thinking and mathematical ability. Meanwhile, meditation has been shown to improve short-term memory, decision-making skills, problem solving, attention and focus.
One widely circulated study found that brainwave training can increase IQ by as much as 23 points. Brainwave training helps induce the mind into a meditation-like state. However, this study was done on 15 children with attention-deficit disorder, so the sample size was small and not representative of the general population.
A 1991 study studied one hundred university students over two years. Those practicing transcendental meditation daily scored significantly higher after two years on two tests that are correlated with general intelligence (Cattell’s Culture Fair Intelligence Test and Hick’s reaction time).
While both of these studies point to improvements in intelligence tests, it’s difficult to separate improvements in intelligence from improvements in test-taking skills like focus, attention and concentration, which are also improved by meditation.
This is especially true with the study done on children with attention deficit disorder, where it’s possible that their test scores could improve simply by virtue of being able to pay more attention to the test.
That said, these and other studies have found improvements in intelligence after meditation, so at the very least there is a strong correlation.
Does meditation increase brain power?
Yes. Meditation changes your brain in ways that are associated with greater cognitive performance.
Scans of meditators’ brains have shown they have more gray matter, which means their neurons are more active and indicates better cognitive performance. Meditation also reduces the size of the amygdala, which is the area of the brain associated with anxiety, leaving greater brain power for other tasks. Age-related cognitive decline is also slower among meditators, and meditators have more “efficient and resilient” functional brain networks—in other words, the brain works together better.
Meditation has also been shown to make your brain physically larger.
Harvard University scanned the brains of 20 advanced meditators in 2006, and found that their brains were thicker in areas related to attention and processing sensory input.
“Our data suggest that meditation practice can promote cortical plasticity in adults in areas important for cognitive and emotional processing and well-being,” says Sara Lazar, leader of the study and a psychologist at Harvard Medical School. “These findings are consistent with other studies that demonstrated increased thickness of music areas in the brains of musicians, and visual and motor areas in the brains of jugglers. In other words, the structure of an adult brain can change in response to repeated practice.”
Meditation improves your memory
Meditators have been shown to have bigger hippocampus regions, which is an area of the brain that plays a major role in learning and memory.
It’s also been shown that adults who’ve undergone four weeks of mindfulness training perform better on short-term memory tests. The lead author of the study commented:
“When you try to learn something new, it’s difficult to do it because you have all these past memories that interfere,” says the lead author of the study, Jonathan Greenberg. “It makes a lot of sense that mindfulness might improve that, because the tendency to attend to the present moment is a core concept of mindfulness.”
Meditation increases emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is different from IQ, and isn’t typically measured on intelligence tests.
EQ measures a person’s ability to understand emotions, deal with conflict, manage stress, and defuse conflict.
Meditation has been shown to increase EQ. In a 2018 study on female employees in the workplace, meditation was shown to significantly increase emotional intelligence scores, and significantly decrease perceived stress.
Why getting smarter isn’t really the goal of meditation
Remember—getting smarter isn’t really the goal of meditation.
Meditation is a practice of attention, helping you stay focused and in the present moment rather than living in the past or the future.
If enhanced creativity and improved intelligence are your goals for meditation, there’s no reason not to try it.
But remember that at the end of the day, meditation is here to help you find calm, peace and happiness by reigning in your wandering mind and practicing nonjudgment.
Any other benefit is icing on the cake.
My mindfulness practice kicked off in 2016 with a ten-day silent retreat. Since then, I’ve read dozens of books about mindfulness and completed hundreds of hours of meditation. Thinking about what makes humans happy, calm, and peaceful is endlessly fascinating to me.