Brain training to increase IQ
Neuroplasticity is an umbrella term that refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses is responses to changes in behavior, environment and neural processes as well as changes resulting from injury. The neuro-scientific community had long believed that the brain was largely fixed and immutable after childhood, although recent studies have suggested that human brains remain plastic into adulthood.
The finding that adult brains continue to form new neural pathways and synapses has propelled several companies to forge into the area of brain training to increase IQ (or at least in the hope of being able to achieve this). Nintendo Wii, as well as Lumosity and a whole bunch of apps design firms have all tried to capitalize on the concept of neuroplasticity by developing brain training programmes and games that target neurological functions including memory, speed, attention and reasoning. The thinking goes that strengthening these cognitive functions could confer a wider overall cognitive benefit of increased IQ or general intelligence.
So is there any basis for believing that IQ can be improved through brain training? Well the answer is both yes and no. Brain training to improve IQ is still subject to much controversy. In support of the motion, the fact that brains remain plastic into adulthood is a good starting point. If this were not the case, we would not be having this debate.
Second, it has been shown that working memory, the mental blackboard that enables us to both retain and manipulate information, is strongly correlated with fluid intelligence (the component of intelligence which is largely believed to be innate and relating to our ability to solve novel problems). In particular, a 2008 study by Susanne Jaeggi found that brain training to increase IQ was possible by training working memory via a simple exercise called dual-n back. She found that people who increased their n-back scores also improved their scores on fluid intelligence tests such as Raven’s Progressive Matrices (RPM) or IQ tests found here. However, subsequent studies failed to replicate Jaeggi’s results. So the support in favour of the camp yes camp may be weaker than initially thought.
Brain training to increase IQ requires further investigation
The reality is that most of us will be able to increase our performance on some of these individual tasks and games, but it has yet to be convincingly demonstrated that getting better at a particular task will confer wider benefits of increased overall intelligence or IQ.
That said, a few other studies have shown that brain training can improve speed and memory. Speed and memory are vital to achieving a high score on an IQ test. For instance, Mensa-administered Catell culture-fair tests are timed tests, with about 50 questions to answer in less than 15 minutes. So improving one’s speed is likely to enable the test taker to cover more questions and perhaps to take an educated guess rather than guessing blind.
We will revisit this topic in future posts. Meanwhile, you can test your fluid intelligence here.