n-back, working memory, and fluid intelligence

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#1 9 May, 2011 - 19:40
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n-back, working memory, and fluid intelligence


In another part of the forum, someone mentioned a website called Lumosity...supposedly it has brain games designed to improve your memory. I just finished reading The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory by Torkel Klingberg. Klingberg is a cognitive neuroscientist in Sweden. He makes the point in his book that it's difficult to transfer new skills to other areas, and that improving in one area does little to improve your overall brain function. Practicing mental math will make you better at mental math, but does little to improve your music skills. (You notice this also in mnemonics events, where a competitor will score high in one event, but score below average in another. Being skilled at Speed Cards doesn't necessarily translate into improvements with Words or Names and Faces. If "memory" was a thing that could be improved, then you'd expect generally consistent results across the board.)

This article on wired makes the same point.
http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2008/04/smart_software

But there is software that has been shown to increase* working memory. Generally speaking, the better your working memory, the smarter you are. Which makes sense...the more chunks of information you can juggle in your head at one time, the more likely you are to arrive at a solution to a problem. The game itself is called n-back, and Source Forge has a free copy to download...

http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/

Haven't tried it yet. It looks tough.

*The studies are small, and intelligence is difficult to measure, so there's plenty of debate still about whether or not working memory can actually be improved.

9 May, 2011 - 23:04
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Hi Larry,
I am a paid subscriber to Lumosity and to tell the truth, I feel entertained and stimulated when I dedicate some time to some of the games, including the memory ones. My gut feeling is that those games allow one to focus on doing something that demands attention, there is a certain feeling of accomplishment which some people (including me) translate to "It Works!", but in reality, I do a Sudoku puzzle and I get the same feeling. I am not putting them down, but I don't subscribe to their claims of making my brain "Younger", it is entertaining and that's that. What I have not found, -including the memory workouts, is something that will give me the ability to make connections between what I memorize, learn, understand, pick one; and the ability to quickly make connections and arrive at accurate conclusions. Keywords being QUICKLY and ACCURATELY. To me, that is the holy grail of the pursuit of intelligence.

10 May, 2011 - 08:15
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I tried Dual N-back last night and it's fun...and addictive. I just did the 1-back and tried the 2-back once, but that's going to take some practice to get used to. It is challenging and I can see how it exercises your mind, visually, audially, and mentally.

BUT, I still think the best workout for your mind is any kind of creative task. The techniques we talk about here to memorize poetry, faces, numbers, etc., are highly creative and demand active creativity. It would be interesting if somebody did a study of how these techniques compare with online games. My gut feeling is that "route" memorization is better for you than "rote" memorization, and that both are better than any kind of crossword puzzle or online brain game.

-cvstuart

18 May, 2011 - 09:26
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Larry wrote:
Klingberg is a cognitive neuroscientist in Sweden. He makes the point in his book that it's difficult to transfer new skills to other areas, and that improving in one area does little to improve your overall brain function. Practicing mental math will make you better at mental math, but does little to improve your music skills.

I'd be interested in reading his book. I've heard this idea before, but I have trouble believing it completely. I think one area where science often gets things wrong is that it sometimes isolates things so much that it misses a bigger picture. If we follow this idea is strictly, there would be no need for any interdisciplinary study.

This may be true when trying to isolate certain skills for a study, but I think that creativity and intelligence come from interdisciplinary thinking, and therefore practicing unrelated things is beneficial for overall intelligence. It may not show up in the narrow kinds of scientific tests that they are performing though. ("Narrow" meaning that they are trying to isolate one thing with the exclusion of the bigger picture which could skew the results.)

If he says that "practicing piano has no measurable effect on archery accuracy", I could believe that, but I am a bit skeptical that consciously practicing either skill would not improve overall brain function or "intelligence". :)

21 May, 2011 - 11:50
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I was thinking about this a little more. An example:

My guitar teacher told me, "practice doesn't make perfect; practice makes permanent." I've applied that to everything I do. Studying guitar definitely helped me get better at many other things.

If a scientist isolates practicing guitar scales and then tests to see if that improves my ping pong scores, it probably wouldn't have an effect. But taking the whole process of learning guitar could definitely improve my ping pong scores, because the ideas developed from learning guitar could be applied to learning ping pong. I would be careful about the form of my swing in the beginning, knowing that I would unconsciously repeat that movement later in the game.

Learning and practicing a skill develops ways to tackle new, unrelated challenges.

That is what I was trying to say. :)

22 June, 2011 - 01:03
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They have a few n-back games on android/iphone, so can work your wokring memory on the bus, queues etc.. :D

22 June, 2011 - 08:02
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Hi Sleightly, et al
What's the name of the Android app or applications? Thanks

15 March, 2012 - 07:46
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Larry wrote:
In another part of the forum, someone mentioned a website called Lumosity...supposedly it has brain games designed to improve your memory. I just finished reading The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory by Torkel Klingberg. Klingberg is a cognitive neuroscientist in Sweden. He makes the point in his book that it's difficult to transfer new skills to other areas, and that improving in one area does little to improve your overall brain function. Practicing mental math will make you better at mental math, but does little to improve your music skills.

I dont mean to take Larry's comment out of context, there is much more to his post than what I'm quoting here but this last statement, practicing mental math will not translate into improvement in music skills, well, those are two different memory systems processed in different regions of the brain. Mental math "exercises" specific nuclei in the parietal cortex(arithmatic/math skills) in conjuction with working out your Working memory(the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) and of course your medial temporal/hippocampus systems while practicing music skills works out your motor cortex, cerebellum and your basal ganglia and working memory system. For this reason for this specific comparison, one would not or more likely could not generalize to the other. We, as humans, have what neuroscientist would call "biologically prepared learning" mechanisms. It only takes one survived encounter with a snake or a tiger to remember (harking back to ancestral times of course) or learn forever aboout avoiding the said predators courtesy of your amygdala and hippocampus. Similarily, a combat vet or a rape victim both suffering from PTSD will forever remember the details of those events. Lastly, noxious substances, excess quantities of a certain alcoholic beverage will leave long lasting avoidance possibly for a lifetime. Memory systems take advantage of these biologically prepared mechanisms by associating "intangibles" with them.

Larry wrote:
But there is software that has been shown to increase* working memory. Generally speaking, the better your working memory, the smarter you are. Which makes sense...the more chunks of information you can juggle in your head at one time, the more likely you are to arrive at a solution to a problem. The game itself is called n-back, and Source Forge has a free copy to download...

http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/

Haven't tried it yet. It looks tough.

*The studies are small, and intelligence is difficult to measure, so there's plenty of debate still about whether or not working memory can actually be improved.

I agree with these statements for sure, working memory can be improved, especially at a young age where plasticity mechanisms seem much more supple. Also I agree with Larry's closing remarks regarding the difficulty in measuring increases in intelligence. Nice post Larry.

21 August, 2012 - 10:04
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What part of the brain is associated with creating and what of the brain is associated with recalling visual images?
Thank you for any information you provide.

21 August, 2012 - 12:19
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluid_intelligence

Is an interesting read, I didn't know there was a name for this sort of thing.

I'm not a neuroscientist but if you want to REALLY improve your fluid intelligence, play games.

Seriously, play lots and lots of different games, play an RPG, play a shooter, play some casual games play some problem solving games, play some horror games and some multiplayer games, get good at RTS games, indie games and so on.

When you're done, your brain will be a problem solving machine because each game has something that is completely different and unlike anything you have witnessed before, ever.

From personal experience I do not believe fluid intelligence is hard wired, it's something you wire yourself by teaching yourself to look at problems from as many view points as you can imagine, by remembering NOT to get attached to only the things you know but also include the things you can find out.

For example I think that since the internet came about, people who use it are much better at solving problems. Because we are now used to looking up information, meaning that to problem solve these days means to be able to work with a huge amount of completely different and strange data, every day on the net you can find about something or see something you have never thought about or seen in your entire life. This wasn't possible before without being one hell of a traveller.

I think we may actually be getting worse at crystallised intelligence because it is no longer relevant, you can no longer rely on what you know right now for more than a year, we're adapting to the new high speed of progress, constantly relearning and re-understanding is what we do now on a sometimes daily basis.

11 June, 2015 - 13:35
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@Larry
I 've read 'The Overflowing Brain' by Dr. Klingberg. Very good pop-sci book contaning some basic and useful neuroscience concepts.

I also have the 'Brainworkshop' program but it has not been developed much in the last years.

N-back is a very sharp and useful exercise though.

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