Do Brain Age and Sudoku Really Make You Smarter?

May 01, 2008 02:40 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A new study shows that brain training may lead to higher “fluid intelligence.”

30-Second Summary

A new study by two University of Michigan researchers showed that fluid intelligence, the kind of memory used to solve new problems, can be improved by training a person’s working memory.

Martin Buschkuehl, one of the new study’s researchers, explained in a Nature magazine article: “The new results are like learning to drive a car, and then finding that you are also better able to fly an aeroplane.”

Recognizing that working memory—the kind used to add up a list of numbers—and fluid intelligence operate on the same brain circuitry, Susanne Jaeggi, with Buschkuehl, gave 70 Swiss students memory quizzes called n-back tests, followed by a standard test of fluid intelligence that uses pattern-recognition tasks. Results showed that fluid intelligence was enhanced by the improvements in working memory, which required some of the same fundamental skills, such as the ability to focus attention.

The news may not surprise many Americans, as the country’s consumers—many of them baby boomers—spent $225 million on brain fitness software like Brain Age in 2007.

Other studies have shown related brain function improvements: in 2005, researchers argued that Sudoku could diminish the risk of dementia, prompting senior centers to create “brain gyms.” More recently, a study of children with ADHD showed that video training could improve “working memory.” But there’s been little evidence to show that this kind of improvement translated to everyday “smarts” until now.

However, some science writers wonder how long improvements in fluid intelligence might last. Clive Ballard, a researcher for the Alzheimer’s Society, called for more compelling proof and suggested doing a clinical trial. He argues, “There is much better evidence to say that if you were going to spend 30 minutes a day doing something … you’d be better off doing physical exercise than brain training.”

Others, like Phillip Ackerman of the Georgia Institute of Technology, questioned the study’s overall significance: “Based on 100 years of research on human intelligence, fluid intelligence is not closely related to professional success.”

Headline Links: Does brain training work?

Background: What is working memory and will improving it diminish ADHD?

Key Player: The lateral prefrontal cortex

Opinion & Analysis: The merits of the research

Related Topics: Senior citizens enjoy brain gyms; Can exercise help your brain?; The science of the brain

Reference: Science of the Brain Web Guide


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