Plastic Brain Outsmarts Experts

June 5, 2008,
Plastic brain outsmarts experts
Fluid intelligence, an aspect of a person's IQ, allows people to solve unfamiliar problems by understanding relationships between various concepts independent of previous knowledge or skills. Research shows that training short-term, or working memory, can improve fluid intelligence, which was once thought to be extremely difficult. Credit: © 2008 Jupiter Images Corporation

Can human beings rev up their intelligence quotients, or are they stuck with IQs set by their genes at birth? Until recently, nature seemed to be the clear winner over nurture.

But new research, led by Swiss postdoctoral fellows Susanne M. Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl, working at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, suggests that at least one aspect of a person's IQ can be improved by training a certain type of memory.

Most IQ tests attempt to measure two types of intelligence--crystallized and fluid intelligence. Crystallized intelligence draws on existing skills, knowledge and experiences to solve problems by accessing information from long-term memory.

Fluid intelligence, on the other hand, draws on the ability to understand relationships between various concepts, independent of any previous knowledge or skills, to solve new problems. The research shows that this part of intelligence can be improved through memory training.

"When it comes to improving intelligence, many researchers have thought it was not possible," says Jaeggi. "Our findings clearly show this is not the case. Our brain is more plastic than we might think."

Jaeggi, Buschkuehl and Walter Perrig from Bern University, Switzerland, along with Jon Jonides, their National Science Foundation-supported colleague from the University of Michigan, reasoned that just as crystallized intelligence relies on long-term memory, fluid intelligence relies on short-term memory, or "working memory," as it is more accurately called. This is the same type of memory people use to remember a phone number or an e-mail address for a short time, but beyond that, working memory refers to the ability to both manipulate and use information briefly stored in the mind in the face of distraction.

Researchers gathered four groups of volunteers and trained their working memories using a complex training task called "dual n-back training," which presented both auditory and visual cues that participants had to temporarily store and recall.

Participants received the training during a half hour session held once a day for either eight, 12, 17 or 19 days. For each of these training periods, researchers tested participants' gains in fluid intelligence. They compared the results against those of control groups to be sure the volunteers actually improved their fluid intelligence, not merely their test-taking skills.

The results were surprising. While the control groups made gains, presumably because they had practice with the fluid intelligence tests, the trained groups improved considerably more than the control groups. Further, the longer the participants trained, the larger were their intelligence gains.

"Our findings clearly show that training on certain memory tasks transfer to fluid intelligence," says Jaeggi. "We also find that individuals with lower fluid intelligence scores at pre-test could profit from the training."

The results are significant because improved fluid intelligence scores could translate into improved general intelligence as measured by IQ tests. General intelligence is a key to determining life outcomes such as academic success, job performance and occupational advancement.

Researchers also surmise that this same type of memory training may help children with developmental problems and older adults who face memory decline. But, that remains to be seen, because the test results are based on assessments of young, healthy adult participants.

"Even though it currently appears very hard to improve these conditions, there might be some memory training related to intelligence that actually helps," says Jaeggi. "The saying 'use it or lose it' is probably appropriate here."

Since it is not known whether the improvements in fluid intelligence last after the training stops, researchers currently are measuring long-term fluid intelligence gains with both laboratory testing and long-term field work. Researchers say it will be some time before a complete data set is available to draw any conclusions.

Source: National Science Foundation

Explore further: Lifestyle choices can affect how we store information in the brain

Related Stories

Lifestyle choices can affect how we store information in the brain

January 10, 2018
A team of researchers has carried out the first study that establishes a link between a person's working memory and their physical health and lifestyle choices.

Is it possible to boost your intelligence by training? We reviewed three decades of research

November 21, 2017
Scientists achieved astonishing results when training a student with a memory training programme in a landmark experiment in 1982. After 44 weeks of practice, the student, dubbed SF, expanded his ability to remember digits ...

'Brain training' may boost working memory, but not intelligence

October 8, 2013
Brain training games, apps, and websites are popular and it's not hard to see why—who wouldn't want to give their mental abilities a boost? New research suggests that brain training programs might strengthen your ability ...

Can training your working memory make you smarter?

March 10, 2017
We would all like to boost our cognitive ability beyond the limits set by Mother Nature. So it's no wonder that brain-training programmes – which typically focus on training our working memory – are a multibillion-dollar ...

Memory training video games can increase brain power

June 14, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Susanne Jaeggi from the University of Michigan looked at the use of specialized video games have the ability to help ...

Brief mindfulness training may boost test scores, working memory

March 26, 2013
Mindfulness training may help to boost standardized test scores and improve working memory, according to a new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Recommended for you

Researchers illustrate how muscle growth inhibitor is activated, could aid in treating ALS

January 19, 2018
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine are part of an international team that has identified how the inactive or latent form of GDF8, a signaling protein also known as myostatin responsible for ...

Bioengineered soft microfibers improve T-cell production

January 18, 2018
T cells play a key role in the body's immune response against pathogens. As a new class of therapeutic approaches, T cells are being harnessed to fight cancer, promising more precise, longer-lasting mitigation than traditional, ...

Weight flux alters molecular profile, study finds

January 17, 2018
The human body undergoes dramatic changes during even short periods of weight gain and loss, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Secrets of longevity protein revealed in new study

January 17, 2018
Named after the Greek goddess who spun the thread of life, Klotho proteins play an important role in the regulation of longevity and metabolism. In a recent Yale-led study, researchers revealed the three-dimensional structure ...

The HLF gene protects blood stem cells by maintaining them in a resting state

January 17, 2018
The HLF gene is necessary for maintaining blood stem cells in a resting state, which is crucial for ensuring normal blood production. This has been shown by a new research study from Lund University in Sweden published in ...

Magnetically applied MicroRNAs could one day help relieve constipation

January 17, 2018
Constipation is an underestimated and debilitating medical issue related to the opioid epidemic. As a growing concern, researchers look to new tools to help patients with this side effect of opioid use and aging.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

NanoStuff
5 / 5 (1) Jun 06, 2008

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.