Scientists Design Exercises That Make You Smarter
Recent studies indicate that some types of brain training can make you smarter
How to Increase Intelligence
- Scientists have long held that fluid intelligence—reflected not by what you know but rather how well you solve novel problems—is largely inherited and relatively impervious to improvement.
- A raft of recent investigations, though, shows that some types of brain training—specifically those that exercise working memory and other so-called executive functions—can raise an individual’s fluid intelligence.
- Working memory training appears to boost fluid intelligence in children and adults alike. As training progresses, the brain regions taxed by working memory become less active when called on and more active at rest. This pattern suggests that certain training programs leave the brain better primed to perform a wide array of tasks.
If you want to strengthen your abdominal muscles, you can do sit-ups. Tone your upper body? Push-ups. To flex your intellectual muscles, however, or boost your children’s academic performance, the answer is less clear. An exercise to stretch memory, tighten attention and increase intelligence could improve children’s chances of coasting comfortably through life—and give adults a leg up as well.
The very notion flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Most people presume that no matter how hard they work, they are not going to get any smarter. Some subjects in our research laboratory, though, have increased their IQ scores after training their brain for as little as three weeks. The improvement can be significant enough that, anecdotally at least, a few participants
noticed a difference in their daily activities. One individual, for example, reported sharper chess skills, stating, “I can plan further ahead.” Another said that it felt easier to sight-read music while playing the piano.
How is this possible? Researchers have long believed that fluid intelligence—which reflects how well you tackle a new task rather than what facts you possess—is a fixed attribute, directly inherited or acquired very early in life. Indeed, evidence shows that fluid intelligence, as with height, is highly heritable, by some estimates as much as 50 to 80 percent. Yet intelligence can still be honed. Just as nutrition can influence height, environmental variables can also either brighten or beleaguer minds. Consider the Flynn effect: over at least the past 65 years measured intelligence, such as scores on the SAT, has steadily increased even though the genetic constitution of the population has not changed measurably.
Because high fluid intelligence typically leads to academic achievement and career success, scientists have long sought to alter it by various means, among them teaching reasoning strategies and test-taking skills. Most of these pursuits have met with limited or no success. More recently, though, in our laboratories and others, researchers have begun exploring the idea that some cognitive training activities—in particular, tasks that exercise working memory—can make a difference. Working memory, also referred to as short-term memory, keeps vital information at the ready so that other parts of the brain can tap it to solve problems. Mental arithmetic, for example, relies on working memory. More broadly, this storage system in the brain appears to be one of the key components of fluid intelligence.
Many studies find that variation in working memory accounts for at least 25 percent of the variation in fluid intelligence among individuals. Our own research confirms that inculcating this skill can lead to higher scores on standard tests of fluid intelligence for children and adults alike. Surprisingly, the training does not appear to expand the capacity of working memory but rather the ability to tune out distracting information. Furthermore, we and other researchers have found that as training progresses, the brain regions taxed by working memory become less active, as if they become more efficient in their functioning. These same areas are more engaged, however, when the brain is at rest. This pattern suggests to us that our program leaves the brain better primed to perform a wide array of tasks.
Read the rest of the article here: Scientific American