Can cognitive training actually make you smarter?

Today I read a new paper by Martin Buschkuehl and Susanne Jaeggi in the Swiss Medical Weekly that reviews the scientific literature on whether intelligence can be improved by specific interventions. This is an interesting question, and one that’s going to continue coming up over the next little while, because there have been indications in various studies over the last few years that certain kinds of cognitive training do actually lead to reliable increases in performance on certain kinds of intelligence measures. Specifically, training regimens aimed at improving working memory, executive functions (I’ll explain that term another time), and controlled attention seem to bring about improvements in what is called “fluid intelligence”, which is the ability to reason and problem-solve in novel contexts. These authors actually published one of those studies themselves in 2008; it was a very interesting paper that found increases in fluid intelligence after adults engaged in only 19 days of working memory training.

So, the answer? It seems to be a qualified ‘yes’: although more data need to come in, and what is meant by intelligence needs to be clearly defined, there is a clear trend pointing toward the ability to improve general intellectual ability through certain targeted forms of cognitive activity. Neat, eh?

2 Responses to “Can cognitive training actually make you smarter?”

  1. Robert Boyd says:

    April 1st eh? You had me thinking there for a moment until I saw the date! 🙂 No really, that is fascinating more fuel for the nature/nurture debate.

    What if you have a high fluid intelligence but struggle with working memory or controlled attention is there a reverse correlation?

  2. No joke! The data are not rock-solid yet, but in my opinion they’re intriguing and are certainly pointing in that direction.

    The correlations between WM and fluid intelligence are at the population level, which means that they hold for people in general. It’s still possible for an individual to have high fluid intelligence but to struggle with working memory. However, he won’t be able to handle complexity and multi-tasking as well as he otherwise could.

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