First, some context:
“Psychologists have long regarded intelligence as coming in two flavors: crystallized intelligence, the treasure trove of stored-up information and how-to knowledge (the sort of thing tested on â€œJeopardy!â€ or put to use when you ride a bicycle); and fluid intelligence. Crystallized intelligence grows as you age; fluid intelligence has long been known to peak in early adulthood, around college age, and then to decline gradually. And unlike physical conditioning, which can transform 98-pound weaklings into hunks, fluid intelligence has always been considered impervious to training.”
Ok. The article goes on to discuss research done with third graders and computer-based memory tasks. But where things get a little fishy to me is the leap between training working memory, to intelligence —
“Because the deceptively simple game, it turns out, targets the most elemental of cognitive skills: â€œworkingâ€ memory. What long-term memory is to crystallized intelligence, working memory is to fluid intelligence. Working memory is more than just the ability to remember a telephone number long enough to dial it; itâ€™s the capacity to manipulate the information youâ€™re holding in your head â€” to add or subtract those numbers, place them in reverse order or sort them from high to low. Understanding a metaphor or an analogy is equally dependent on working memory; you canâ€™t follow even a simple statement like â€œSee Jane runâ€ if you canâ€™t put together how â€œseeâ€ and â€œJaneâ€ connect with â€œrun.â€ Without it, you canâ€™t make sense of anything.
Maybe my neuroscience friends can help out on this one, because I do wonder — even supposing brain games can help improve working memory (and all indications thus far are that they do to some extent) wouldn’t a law of diminishing returns come into play at some point? Can repeating the same gamified task again and again really lead to meaningful change in intelligence … or does your brain just get really, really good at playing the game?
For those that are curious, you can try theÂ Dual NBack GameÂ here. (ps: it requires the hated Microsoft Silverlight plug-in). And more —
So … how transferrable are these memory skills? Even ignoring the separate topic of IQ/intelligence, can games truthfully make you smarter? The NYT article mentions one or two studies that seem to indicate the relationship between brain training and intelligence is far from causal:
“… while most skills improve with practice, the improvement is generally domain-specific: you donâ€™t get better at Sudoku by doing crosswords. And fluid intelligence was not just another skill; it was the ultimate cognitive ability underlying all mental skills, and supposedly immune from the usual benefits of practice. To find that training on a working-memory task could result in an increase in fluid intelligence would be cognitive psychologyâ€™s equivalent of discovering particles traveling faster than light.”