Monday, May 28, 2012

N-Back Games to Increase Intelligence Still Iffy

Do you know what the N-Back game is? I didn't either but now I do because it and its cousins are the mainstay of brain training, aimed at improving memory and attention for all ages. I tried one brain training game, about a 9 months ago, although I don't remember the brand name (ironic). Actually I bought it as a gift for my husband with the idea that we could use it together. The information about the brain training was on sharpbrains.com

 I returned the game fairly quickly because neither of us had the patience or boredom tolerance to practice 20 minutes a day, a problem that I later learned was also a concern of manufacturers and researchers. Players have to summon their own motivation and willingness to delay gratification, which is tough for adults, but even harder for kids as you can imagine.

The basis for this type of brain function enhancement is based on research that showed that improvement in n-back training could result in improvement in fluid intelligence: "the capacity to solve novel problems, to learn, to reason, to see connections and get to the bottom of things." Sounds like problem-solving thinking to me. The NYTimes Magazine, 4/22/2012 article by Dan Hurley noted, "To find that training could result in an increase in fluid intelligence would be cognitive psychology's equivalent of discovering particles traveling faster than light." The early mission of the training aimed to increase kids' intelligence. The later added goal was to build working memory and  attention for adults, young and old.

Problems arose. Researchers couldn't come up with the same excellent results that the pioneering research found. And again, the problem of how to build and maintain a habit that doesn't have immediate rewards, involves strategic allocation of attention on the training game for 20 minutes every day,  and requires patience, focus, and determination still hasn't been solved.

Nonetheless, I think the N-Back games training is something for adults, particularly parents, to keep on their radar. In the next year or two,  developments may bring this intelligence enhancing tool to an effective level, an adjunct to everyday life for kids and adults.
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