Skip to comments.Memory Training Shown to Turn Up Brainpower
Posted on 04/30/2008 7:11:06 PM PDT by neverdem
A new study has found that it may be possible to train people to be more intelligent, increasing the brainpower they had at birth.
Until now, it had been widely assumed that the kind of mental ability that allows us to solve new problems without having any relevant previous experience what psychologists call fluid intelligence is innate and cannot be taught (though people can raise their grades on tests of it by practicing).
But in the new study, researchers describe a method for improving this skill, along with experiments to prove it works.
The key, researchers found, was carefully structured training in working memory the kind that allows memorization of a telephone number just long enough to dial it. This type of memory is closely related to fluid intelligence, according to background information in the article, and appears to rely on the same brain circuitry. So the researchers reasoned that improving it might lead to improvements in fluid intelligence.
First they measured the fluid intelligence of four groups of volunteers using standard tests. Then they trained each in a complicated memory task, an elaborate variation on Concentration, the childs card game, in which they memorized simultaneously presented auditory and visual stimuli that they had to recall later.
The game was set up so that as the participants succeeded, the tasks became harder, and as they failed, the tasks became easier. This assured a high level of difficulty, adjusted individually for each participant, but not so high as to destroy motivation to keep working. The four groups underwent a half-hour of training daily for 8, 12, 17 and 19 days, respectively. At the end of each training, researchers tested the participants fluid intelligence again. To make sure they were not just improving their test-taking skills, the researchers compared...
(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...
On the other hand, reading the NY Times is a proven way to train people to be less intelligent.
Bookmark for later reading.
Bookmark?! Can’t you just remember it? ;)
There’s no free lunch. Even if this works and has practical potential, it will require effort and concentration to achieve performance improvement. Akin to speed reading.
No. I’m 57. My mind is gone!
So skuulin is gud fer sumtin after all.
Take LSD and live to 102!
At least, you can still remember your age. I can't!
I wrote a similar program for a friend who had taken a job at a parts counter and was having trouble remembering 10 digit numbers. He said in three days he was kickin everyone elses butt, I thought he was just humoring me. Now after reading this article I tried it and I feel smarter already.
Intelligence is a very tricky concept.
To start with, it seems to be the “flip side” to creativity.
That is, people who can maintain a focused attention are able to grasp far more complex problems and solve them.
However, to have creative leaps, maintaining an unfocused state of mind for a length of time permits the imagination free reign.
But people have learned a trick that makes them vacillate back and forth between mental focus and unfocused, most likely because it increases survivability in high risk situations.
It is our talking to ourselves, our internal dialogue. It is taught to us from infancy, and we still practice it though are lives are far safer today. Unfortunately, it also interferes with both our intelligence and creativity.
Many different intellectual skills, such as meditation, must begin with task of “shutting off the noise” in the head, and with practice, a degree of control over internal dialogue allows for longer periods of both a focused and an unfocused state of mind.
In raw intelligence, you would seem to gain 10 or 20 IQ points, just by being able to concentrate on what you are doing.
This is why individuals with Asperger’s disorder seem to be very intelligent. They are incapable of maintaining an internal dialogue, so their focus on a problem may run to hours or even days without distraction.
And this is just one of the problems in intelligence.
Another is confusing intelligence with memorization, a frequent error. Techniques to improve memory are well known, yet few people practice them on a regular basis, finding little need for them. And they are usually correct.
Other abilities that are often confused with intelligence are spatial visualization, or being able to imagine abstract problems in your head; finely tuned senses; physical dexterity; empathy; verbosity and vocabulary; even appearance can be confused with intelligence.
Education and test taking ability are confused as well. Many highly educated people are not particularly bright, which is self evident.
Were you able to read the actual article yourself?
I found speed reading as useful as used toilet paper, IMHO, except for increasing scores on reading tests. It was useless for mastering any subject matter. I have enough errors of omission without trying.
No, just the abstract that I linked. Sometimes if you enclose the title within quotation marks and enter it into a search engine, e.g. Yahoo, Google, etc., you get lucky. I only found this review so far.
FReepmail me if you want on or off my health and science ping list.
“That is, people who can maintain a focused attention are able to grasp far more complex problems and solve them.
However, to have creative leaps, maintaining an unfocused state of mind for a length of time permits the imagination free reign.”
Thanks for the insight and reminder. I was just trying to get my daughter to focus on her long division and her mind got side tracked following some numbers off to who knows where. I started to get a bit frustrated and she said “Dad - you know I always have to be thinking of SOMETHING!” So I calmed down, had her stop, think of being up camping and fishing to clear her head (and mine!) and she was able to get back on task.
She does come up with the best stories though - and made-up games!
One of the better exercises I’ve heard of to increase control over the internal dialogue is based on an interesting theory.
It is that the part of the brain in charge of talking to ourselves is the same part that involves attention. It has finite resources, so if you can fully use them on attention instead of talking, with practice it gives you more and more control over that part of your mind. Sometimes described as like having a “talk to yourself on/off switch”.
By not talking to yourself, you learn how not to talk to yourself.
Thus the exercise is to do several physically undemanding things at the same time, that use a lot of attention.
Ordinary walking uses a great deal of attention, directed to the legs to keep navigating, avoiding obstacles, etc. So it is a great starting point. Added to that, as you walk, holding your hands in some unusual manner, like with two of the fingers crossed. It doesn’t matter what, just as long as your attention is directed to your arms and hands as well as your legs and feet. If you lose attention on your hands, you just change how you are holding them.
The real trick is to unfocus your eyes. And this uses some interesting psychology. Normally, when you look at things, your attention and focus is “point to point”. You look from tiny spot to tiny spot, which uses just minimal attention, seeing most things peripherally. But when you unfocus your eyes, the whole 180 degree tableau in front of you is equal, as far as your attention is concerned.
And this uses a whopping great amount of attention.
Combining all three things: walking, holding your hands funny, and unfocusing your eyes, overwhelms that small part of your brain by taking so much attention, that it just doesn’t have the ability to keep up the internal dialogue.
And you stop talking to yourself, for longer and longer times.
Walking around this way is easy to learn, and with just a mile or two, every day or two, you start to notice increased concentration in about two weeks. And the effects tend to be cumulative, so the more you do it, the better you get.
Imagine being able to sit down and do an entire SAT test without distraction.
I knew one young man who did this exercise, almost because he had to. His internal dialogue was so intense that he continually vacillated back and forth between focused and unfocused. The end result was that he sounded like a California surf bum. He could barely speak a sentence without being distracted. It was both exhaustive and very frustrating for him.
In about a month, I saw him again, and he looked revitalized. He was almost a different person, could speak in whole paragraphs, and loved the ability to actually finish things he had started. I also noted that he was bursting with energy, no longer having to commit so much brain power to internal dialogue and bouncing back and forth.
There are all sorts of ways of accomplishing much the same thing, but he is the reason I remember this exercise so well.
Yes, certainly, appearance and other things you mention can be confused for intelligence. Also, and I experienced it as a child, a listening ability (in other words, silence.) That said, tell me, do you consider IQ tests and scores valid measures of intelligence?
I took one once, became bored and tired of it three quarters into it and finished it just to finish it by making quick blind guesses. I still got a high score, which I no longer remember, mainly because I dismissed the whole thing, concluding that the test tested a particular skill of puzzle solving (and, of course, one's patience, which my psychological profile, and probably the horoscope as well, say I lack.) I think that musicians, engineers and computer programmers would do well on such tests, but writers and philosophers would do badly.
I mean, is a card shark highly ‘intelligent’? What about x42? We know that he’s manipulative, has figured out the game, we know that he’s affable, and affability is one characteristic that is often confused for intelligence. How intelligent is Bill Gates to do such dumb things as his non-Microsoft activities (throwing money into the garbage dump of Africa, foir example)?
I used to enjoy reading several of them, however, to say that “science hasn’t even yet caught up (with them)” is, I have to say, faint praise.
I like to point out that science is in many ways like chess, a game of very explicit rules. If you follow those rules, all you have really done is follow the rules and played the game, nothing more. To interpolate and extrapolate beyond the game itself is a questionable endeavor.
The analogy is a good one, for Napoleon Bonaparte used military units in maneuver much like chess pieces move on the board, and was able to achieve an astounding victory, the capture of an enemy army at Ulm, almost entirely through maneuver. But to say that in a war, the winning army will be the one used most like chess pieces in a game of chess, is an almost laughable extrapolation.
And yet people think nothing of making equally broad extrapolations to scientific experiments.
But science cannot account for capabilities that are not universal. It cannot explain what it is about him that makes Itzhak Perlman a virtuoso, and other equally practiced violinists just ordinary. He is an irreproducible result, and thus cannot be a science.
So all science will ever be is just a game, like chess. A useful game, but terribly limited.
But it raises the question of a system of knowledge that is *better* than science. Theories that such a thing might be possible have long been on the periphery of imagination, but are tantalizingly invisible.
That there must be such a system of knowledge must be a given, however, and knowledge is far too vast to be unorganized. Society would collapse without specialization, as who would want to visit a dentist who knew something about dentistry, something about botany, and something about auto mechanics, instead of being entirely a dentist?
But at the same time, while he might be brilliant in dental theory, he might have a deep disgust with the idea of putting his hands in other people’s mouths, or be utterly incapable of the talent that is needed to be a dentist.
So a theory of knowledge “better than science”, has to account for the obvious. Not just the ability to universally reproduce a result, but taking into account talent and even extraordinary talent.
And this is where Gurdjieff, et al., come into play. That is either people are already specialized in some difficult to determine way, that would make them inherently talented; or they can be manipulated in such a way to maximize their talent in a given direction.
For example, science and the 20th Century philosophies are of the mind that anyone can be trained to be a soldier. However, what if a sub-class of humanity have as part of their inherent design, the ability to be “warriors”?
That is, a warrior “clan” of people who are inherently more capable to be fighters than everybody else. Who will always be superior in a fight, no matter the style of conflict. Whose “design specifications” are already specialized.
If you look in martial arts, or even in the military, there are individuals who are so inherently better warriors than everybody else, that they can out fight 100 ordinary soldiers. A small army of just such people could overwhelm even a vastly superior force, technology notwithstanding.
But being a “warrior” would be just one specialty among people. By determining what other “clans” exist among people, society itself could be reordered.
However, even if such clans exist, Gurdjieff, et al., point out that while a major variable, they are just one variable. One system of order overlaid with other, equally specialized systems.
This is a major stumbling block. Unless there is some means of accurately determining what the major variables are in human specifications, people have to spend a lifetime to discover what they are, and so will never have full benefit of knowledge of their design for most of their lives.
And while they are to a great extent directed by their specifications, much of what they do will be wasted in efforts that will never pan out. They will not, cannot become virtuoso violinists, at most becoming fiddlers, despite much wasted effort and anguish. Importantly, even if they know that they will never achieve virtuosity, many will try anyway, so there is little downside to their knowing themselves, their design specifications.
Thus it seems that mankind is stuck in a quandary. Unless we can develop some means of accurately and technologically distinguishing are specifications, we will never be able to fully optimize their use. I say technologically, because far too few people are able to make what should be a common determination.
So we need a scientific technology that will enable us to perceive things beyond scientific understanding. We know something is there, but how can we build a machine to detect it?