For years, people thought intelligence was genetic. It was thought that your intelligence potential was more or less fixed at birth, that at best, you could make yourself dumber by huffing paint or drinking booze. This was actually confirmed by just about all of the scientific studies conducted. Many studies showed that nominal improvements in intelligence could be made through training, but all of these improvements seemed to evaporate after a short time. Worse, the training that yielded the greatest results, as measured by particular tests, didn’t translate to any other tests, mostly because the training just taught people how to do well on the particular test.
But now there’s the Brain Workshop and Dual-n-Back.
Researchers have identified one of the most important aspects of intelligence, which they call Fluid Intelligence. Basically, fluid intelligence is a measure of how good someone is at learning new information and then adapting that information to a new cognitive problem or situation. This is obviously a key to how fast someone learns, but it also seems to closely relate to both educational and professional success. So, it’s kinda important.
It turns out Fluid Intelligence is also closely related to working memory. Maybe you’ve heard that most people can only keep 3 or 4 things in their working memory at one time? Well, this actually varies quite a bit, with more intelligent people generally able to hold more things in working memory at one time. Scientists aren’t really sure why, but they have some hypothesis as to why Fluid Intelligence and working memory are so related:
- Working memory and intelligence share a common capacity constraint. The reason for this constraint is assumed to lie in the common demand for attention when temporary binding processes are taking place to form representations in reasoning tasks.
- Working memory and Fluid Intelligence are primarily related through attentional control processes.
- The ability to derive abstract relations and to maintain a large set of possible goals in working memory accounts for individual differences in typical tasks that measure Fluid Intelligence.
- Fluid Intelligence and working memory both rely on the same underlying neural circuitries and networks, most consistently located in lateral prefrontal and parietal cortices.
But, that doesn’t mean Fluid Intelligence and working memory are the same thing. It just means that by training to increase your working memory, you can increase your Fluid Intelligence. This means you’re not only getting better at a test, you’re actually getting smarter. Fluid Intelligence measures how well you learn and apply, after all. And the good news is, studies have shown that it doesn’t matter how smart or dumb you are, everybody can increase their working memory. These gains don’t appear to be terribly short lived, and they don’t appear to plateau, at least not during the three-week training covered by the studies. That means you can keep getting smarter and smarter.
How To Increase Your Fluid Intelligence
This part is easy and fun too. The software is called the Brain Workshop, and the game is called Dual-n-Back. (It’s free). The game is played on a tic-tac-toe board. The “dual” means there are two stimuli: audio and visual. A square flashes at one space on the board at the same time a letter is said aloud. The square disappears and then another square flashes at a space on the board while another letter is said aloud. Repeat. The “n-back” means you have to remember n moves ago. So, if you’re play Dual-2-Back, you press either “A” (for audio) or “L” (for location) if either the same letter was spoken aloud or same the location on the board was displayed 2 moves backs. If you’re playing Dual-4-Back, you press “A” or “L” if the same thing was spoken or displayed 4 moves ago.
I discovered this almost a year ago, played it for a few minutes a day for a few a couple weeks, and thought it was tremendous. I definitely noticed a difference in my thinking. I don’t know if I would say I got smarter, but my thinking was much clearer and my short term memory seemed to improve quite a bit.
Has anyone else used this? Have you found it beneficial?
Get Dual-n-Back here.
Read the paper, Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory, here.