Memory training boosts IQ

Is the IQ set in stone once we hit adulthood? ‘Yes it is’ used to be the received wisdom. A new meta-analysis challenges this view and gives hope to all of us who feel that mother nature should have endowed us with more IQ points. But is the training worth it?

a perfectly realistic depiction of intelligence training

a perfectly realistic depiction of intelligence training

Intelligence increases in adults

I have previously blogged about intelligence training with music (here). Music lessons increase your intelligence by round about 3 IQ points. But this has only been shown to work in children. A new paper shows that adults can also improve their IQ. Jacky Au and colleagues make this point based on one big analysis incorporating 20 publications with over 1000 participans. People did a working memory exercice, i.e. they trained the bit of their mind that holds information online. How? They did the so-called n-back task over and over and over again. Rather than explain the n-back task here, I just invite you to watch the video.

Increasing memory, increasing intelligence

Of course you cannot change your intelligence if you only do the task once. However, once you do this task several times a week over several weeks, your performance should increase, which shows that you trained your working memory. However, you will also improve on seemingly unrelated IQ tests. The meta-analysis takes this as a sign that actual intelligence increases result from n-back training. Working memory training goes beyond improvements on working memory tests alone.

The catch

So, the training is effective. It increases your intelligence by three to four IQ points. But is it efficient? You have to train for around half an hour daily, over a month. Such a training regime will have a considerable impact on your life. Are three to four IQ points enough to compensate for that?

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Au, J., Sheehan, E., Tsai, N., Duncan, G., Buschkuehl, M., & Jaeggi, S. (2014). Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory: a meta-analysis Psychonomic Bulletin & Review DOI: 10.3758/s13423-014-0699-x

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  1. I knew that music lessons helped children raise there IQ scores, but I am surprised at the fact adults could raise theirs. I don’t think I would be willing to do this for that amount of time over a month, but I think for some people it would be worth it. If your IQ is very low, three or four points might be worth it. Although I do think training your memory could generally help you do a lot better at a lot of different things. I found this very interesting!

  2. Sure, this can raise your score on an IQ test, but what do these tests actually measure? More than anything, rather than intelligence, they measure one’s ability to perform exercises, or their knowledge and training. The brain gets stronger and more efficient with normal use, and of course that causes their score to appear higher, but I don’t think a true intelligence quotient can be measured, much less changed. What is really happening when people’s scores improved? When you say people trained their working memory, which exercises specifically were they doing? How many participants were tested on this theory? Did the content on the IQ test at all relate to their exercises? That would give them a very unfair bias in the study.

  3. This game is really interesting! My only question is does this apply to everyone? If Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence is true, then would some people see less improvement compared to others? Could some potentially see even higher than a 3-4 point improval?

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