Does body armor make you smarter?
It was a project I’d been working on for a while. I was never sure how it could be possible, but one day, I was looking through a neurology journal and asked myself, “What if body armor made you smarter?”
Years of researching turned up an interesting find: that memory is the process of building new connections between neurons. It seemed that with every new experience your brain forms these neurons which help increase your intelligence, level of awareness and storage capacity. What if blocks from armor were actually helping our brains grow in ways scientists hadn’t even realized?
Aside from the obvious “hands-on” benefits of body armor, like protection against injuries, is there any way it can help you think better?
The idea is that the ability to follow the fast-paced conversations of military-level strategy is about more than just intelligence. It really depends on your training.
A study last year found that people who had not received military training for an average of 17 years prior were significantly less likely to participate in strategy games than those who had. But here’s the clincher: among those who had received military training, the difference was negligible.
So what does that mean? There are some heuristic conclusions to draw based on this data.
First, if you haven’t trained for high-level strategy games in a while — you might need to start getting back into practice mode.
The ability to keep up with fast-paced conversations during a battle can be a key component to overall success.
Secondly, you can also train for it. It’s an area that has been traditionally underrepresented in the civilian population, but it’s a skill worth knowing about.
But the most promising benefit of military training isn’t in intelligence. It comes from physical training. There’s evidence that military training makes your bones stronger by building better neural connections than everyday training, especially during periods of heightened stress.
In fact, there’s even a chance that the neural connections used to build your physical strength were formed as part of the overall process of building your mind.
The evidence is mounting for all of these potential benefits, but that’s probably why body armor has also been historically under-researched.
I think it’s definitely possible that our modern armor could be an important tool to increase the rate of intellectual growth for kids and adults who aren’t exposed to high levels of physical training. This could go a long way in explaining why a majority of the world’s brightest are found in Asia and not America.
If this was the case, I think that would make some people feel like there are social issues to be dealt with.
For example, there’s a chance that there are more geniuses in the world, but there are significantly fewer geniuses with access to the highest levels of training available. Is there an opportunity for armor development to also have the positive social impact of improving education?
As a scientist, it’s always good to ask the questions — especially with a project like this. From the beginning, I’ve had a lot of support from the military community, and my hope is that this research could benefit military families around the world.
If our brain structure allows us to grow new neurons to adapt to an increasing number of new experiences, then it seems possible we could all benefit from training — even if we never actually put on a uniform and strap on a shield.