If you do lots of push-ups, you get stronger – but if you do a lot of mental exercises, do you get smarter?
For most of human history, it’s accepted that you’re either born smart or (sadly) not and that there’s no amount of Sudoku that will make you smarter (sure you can be more knowledgable – say by educating yourself, but not intrinsically more intelligent).
But that common wisdom may be wrong: studies show that you can increase your smarts by improving your memory through certain types of games…
… in 2008, [Susan] Jaeggi turned one of these tests of working memory into a training task for building it up, in the same way that push-ups can be used both as a measure of physical fitness and as a strength-building task. “We see attention and working memory as the cardiovascular function of the brain,” Jaeggi says.“If you train your attention and working memory, you increase your basic cognitive skills that help you for many different complex tasks.”
Jaeggi’s study has been widely influential. Since its publication, others have achieved results similar to Jaeggi’s not only in elementary-school children but also in preschoolers, college students and the elderly. The training tasks generally require only 15 to 25 minutes of work per day, five days a week, and have been found to improve scores on tests of fluid intelligence in as little as four weeks. Follow-up studies linking that improvement to real-world gains in schooling and job performance are just getting under way. But already, people with disorders including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.) and traumatic brain injury have seen benefits from training. Gains can persist for up to eight months after treatment.
Dan Hurley of The New York Times reports: Link