Aspire to be smarter? It’s possible. Brain is plastic.

Brain is plastic. Especially when it comes to things like working memory. Working memory is very critical to functioning everyday. A larger working memory also helps you do well in mathematics, sciences and engineering etc. in addition to improving your everyday life.
Say on your way to work in the lobby you meet a person whose start up is doing something very interesting and you want to schedule a meting with her to follow up. You got her name, email and phone number (a phone number in US typically ranges from 7 to 10 digits depending on if you have to remember area code). You don’t have a pen to write down the number. A couple of your collegues greet you on your way to the elevator. Someone in the elevator says it’s a nice day out side. Another person says, the weekend is supposed to be sunny. As you get off the elevator, you run into your boss’s admin that says to forward the work order for the job that’s going to need approval and it needs to be done as soon as you get to your office. Some of this trivia but your brain is trying to keep remembering the phone number and the name of the person you met in the lobby, and also the tasks you need to get done that morning.
How much of this can you remember when you get to your office? This is your working memory capacity. The more you have the smarter you are.

Now that we understand working memory is very important for intelligence, how do we improve it? You can do cross word puzzles, sudoku etc. But the problem with this type of exercises is, it has diminishing returns after the first couple of times. It’s like going to the gym and doing biceps (same weight and same exercise). No physical trainer will ever recommend this is what you need to do for a healthy body. Healthy and fit brain is the same. You need well tuned program that varies enough to tone all the necessary skills.

This interview shows insights into how you can increase your working memory and effectively be smarter than you are.
The interview published (in May 2008) in Sharper Brains is with Mar­tin Buschkuehl, one of the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Cog­ni­tive Neu­roimag­ing Lab researchers involved in the cog­ni­tive train­ing study that has received much media atten­tion (New York Times, Wired, Sci­ence News…) since late April, when the study was pub­lished at the Pro­ceed­ings of the National Acad­emy of Sciences

They recruited 70 stu­dents aged around 26 years and set half of them on a chal­leng­ing computer-based cog­ni­tive train­ing reg­i­men, based on the so-called “n-back task.” This is a very com­plex work­ing mem­ory task that involves the simul­ta­ne­ous pre­sen­ta­tion of visual and audi­tory stim­uli. The exper­i­men­tal group watched a series of screens on their com­put­ers, where a blue square appeared in var­i­ous posi­tions on a black back­ground. Each screen appeared for half a sec­ond, with a 2.5 sec­ond gap before the next one appeared. While this hap­pened, the trainees also heard a series of let­ters that were read out at the same rate.

At first, stu­dents had to say if either the screen or the let­ter matched those that popped up two cycles ago. The num­ber of cycles increased or decreased depend­ing on how well the stu­dents per­formed the task. The stu­dents sat through about twenty-five min­utes of train­ing per day for either 8, 12, 17 or 19 days, and were tested on their fluid intel­li­gence before and after the reg­i­men using the Bochumer-Matrizen Test (this is a problem-solving task based on the same prin­ci­ple as the very well known Raven’s Advanced Pro­gres­sive Matri­ces. How­ever, it is more dif­fi­cult and there­fore espe­cially suited for aca­d­e­mic samples).

Par­tic­i­pants in the exper­i­men­tal group did sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter on the fluid intel­li­gence test (which was not directly trained) than par­tic­i­pants in the con­trol group. Those in the con­trol group had not gone through any train­ing. The con­trol group did improve slightly, but real “trainees” out­per­formed them (see Fig­ure Xa). Fur­ther­more, we found that the improve­ment was dose-dependent: the more they trained, the larger the gain on fluid intelligence.

What are the par­tic­u­lar aspects of the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan study that sur­prised you the most?

First, the clear trans­fer into fluid intel­li­gence, that many researchers and psy­chol­o­gists take as fixed.

Sec­ond, I was sur­prised to see that the more train­ing the bet­ter the out­come. The improve­ments did not seem to peak early.

Third, that all trained groups improved, no mat­ter their respec­tive start­ing points. In fact, stu­dents with low­est fluid intel­li­gence seemed to improve the most. But that was not the main focus of our study, so we can not say much more about it.

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One Response to Aspire to be smarter? It’s possible. Brain is plastic.

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Aspire to be smarter? It’s possible. Brain is plastic. | rndsync's Blog -- Topsy.com

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