‘Brain Training’ May Boost Working Memory, but Not Intelligence

Medical Xpress, 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 to hold information in mind, but they won’t bring any benefits to the kind of intelligence that helps you reason and solve problems.

The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“It is hard to spend any time on the web and not see an ad for a website that promises to train your brain, fix your attention, and increase your IQ,” says psychological scientist and lead researcher Randall Engle of Georgia Institute of Technology. “These claims are particularly attractive to parents of children who are struggling in school.”

According to Engle, the claims are based on evidence that shows a strong correlation between working memory capacity (WMC) and general fluid intelligence. Working memory capacity refers to our ability to keep information either in mind or quickly retrievable, particularly in the presence of distraction. General fluid intelligence is the ability to infer relationships, do complex reasoning, and solve novel problems.

The correlation between WMC and fluid intelligence has led some to surmise that increasing WMC should lead to an increase in fluid intelligence, but “this assumes that the two constructs are the same thing, or that WMC is the basis for fluid intelligence,” Engle notes.

To better understand the relationship between these two aspects of cognition, Engle and colleagues had 55 undergraduate students complete 20 days of training on certain cognitive tasks. {snip}

The researchers administered a battery of tests before and after training to gauge improvement and transfer of learning, including a variety of WMC measures and three measures of fluid intelligence.

The results were clear: Only students who trained on complex span tasks showed transfer to other WMC tasks. None of the groups showed any training benefit on measures of fluid intelligence.

“For over 100 years, psychologists have argued that general memory ability cannot be improved, that there is little or no generalization of ‘trained’ tasks to ‘untrained’ tasks,” says Tyler Harrison, graduate student and lead author of the paper. “So we were surprised to see evidence that new and untrained measures of working memory capacity may be improved with training on complex span tasks.”

The results suggest that the students improved in their ability to update and maintain information on multiple tasks as they switched between them, which could have important implications for real-world multitasking:


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  • Erasmus

    It’s that damn biology again. Surely it’s got to be ‘rayciss’.

    • Jack Burton

      Ironically, sounds like something a black would name their child, Raycis.

  • Spartacus

    Damn ! And here I thought I was becoming a super-genius by doing those…

  • All this means is that brain exercises increase the amount of water in your bucket, but it does not increase the size of your bucket.

  • sbuffalonative

    The results were clear: Only students who trained on complex span tasks showed transfer to other WMC tasks. None of the groups showed any training benefit on measures of fluid intelligence.

    It never matters how clear the results are. What matters is political correctness.

  • joesolargenius

    I need to start trying something like that as my Brain tumor has caused me some real memory problems to the extent that my employer took me off the schedule for work until after I have provided them with medical documentation showing my limitations. I had to drive over a hundred miles to Raleigh,NC and undergo a memory test which consisted mostly of a cute young woman showing me pictures and having me name what I saw and telling me stories which I would have to repeat back as best as possible.

  • me

    Reading constantly, especially great websites like American Renaissance, is the only way to get the old grey matter a workout. You’ll be a lot smarter than before you read AmRen.

  • Jack Burton

    You might see an increase of 5 points on an IQ test with brain training, just maximizing your innate ability. If you’re very close to the next IQ range it may be worth it to you.

  • Greg Thomas

    On rare occassions, I resent my parents for not passing along a higher IQ to their offspring. The possibility of becoming a doctor was not in the cards for me. This is why I have chosen not to have children. One of the greatest curses in life is to suffer from an average IQ.

    • Stan D Mute

      That’s a LOUSY reason not to have kids. It’s selfish and benefits only you. Due to the vagaries of genetics, a genius may have a child who is a dullard. A man and woman with just average intelligence may have a genius child. The odds are, if you are average and your mate are average, that your offspring will be average, but there are no guarantees. In the worst case, you may be depriving the rest of us of the visionary who will lead us out of this DIEversity multi-culti death spiral. In the best case (from our perspective) you may only be depriving us of a good plumber or car mechanic. In ANY case, you are depriving the world of another white human while the Afros (in particular) are breeding like flies.

  • bigone4u

    Forest Gump: Stupid is as stupid does.
    According to the Urban Dictionary,
    It means that an intelligent person who does stupid things is still stupid. You are what you do.

  • Greg Thomas

    He wasn’t a Jew if that’s what you are eluding to.