People have been picking up new hobbies to stay occupied during the pandemic. These ones may be making you smarter, according to a new report.

By Anna Halkidis
February 03, 2021
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An image of young girls playing guitar and making music.
Credit: Getty Images.

If you used Google to get ideas on what hobbies to pick up during the pandemic, you are far from alone. The search query spiked—at one time even as high as 400 percent.

But did you know some of these new hobbies could be improving your family's intelligence quotient (IQ)? A fun new report suggests as much.

DIYS.com, a site dedicated to DIY projects and tutorials, asked more than 4,500 volunteers in July 2020 to choose a hobby to take up during the pandemic. Volunteers were asked to take an IQ test on 123Test.com before they started their new hobby and six months later to see which ones might improve cerebral intelligence. (IQ scores—the average being 100—measure a person's reasoning ability and how well and fast they can recall information and solve puzzles.)

At the top of the list? Learning a new instrument, which was linked with a 10-point increase in IQ. That's no surprise to Victor M. Fornari, M.D., M.S., a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Zucker Hillside Hospital and Cohen's Children's Medical Center in Queens, New York, who wasn't linked with the report. "Studies have demonstrated that learning a musical instrument increases gray matter volume in various brain regions. It also strengthens the long-range connections between them," says Dr. Fornari. (Here's a quick rundown: Gray matter helps your brain process and release new information and even helps control your movement, memory, and emotions. Research has shown those with more gray matter tend to have higher IQs.)

"Additional research shows that musical training can enhance verbal memory, spatial reasoning, and reading skills," adds Dr. Fornari.

If your child isn't the next Mozart, don't worry, there are other fun ways they might be able to enhance their IQ, according to this report. Second on the list of brain-boosting activities was knitting (9 point increase), followed by exercising (7 point increase), reading (7 point increase), and practicing mediation (6 point increase). A bit lower on the list was joining an online video game group (5 point increase), which further proves you shouldn't beat yourself up too much over your child's screen time use during the pandemic.

So why might certain activities have a potent effect on IQ? "The brain is an organ that is stimulated by activities," explains Dr. Fornari. "Each of the activities listed above stimulates different regions of the brain." They help the brain develop and mature. And keep in mind, the brain continues to mature until the mid to late 20s.

Of course, picking up a new hobby or two may increase IQ, but parents shouldn't focus so much on a single score. "Higher IQ scores are assumed to mean that the individual has higher intellectual functioning," says Dr. Fornari. "Unfortunately, this single score indicates general functioning. IQ tests are a proxy for intellectual capacity."

So, instead of putting emphasis on that score, you might be better off focusing on your child's strengths and helping them in their challenging areas whenever you can. "Children learn according to their learning profile. Recognizing this can help to support the child's education as well as their sense of self-esteem," adds Dr. Fornari.

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