banner
You are not using a standards compliant browser. Because of this you may notice minor glitches in the rendering of this page. Please upgrade to a compliant browser for optimal viewing:
Firefox
Internet Explorer 7
Safari (Mac and PC)
Post Archive
2018 (0)2012 (3)2011 (73)
December (1)

Robot Insects
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
November (6)October (5)

BRB
Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Women's Intuition
Friday, October 21, 2011

Thinking with your Fingers
Monday, October 17, 2011

Choice
Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On Souls and Confections...?
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
September (7)

On Souls...?
Thursday, September 29, 2011

Beware the False Consensus Effect!
Saturday, September 24, 2011

Your Preferences - Preliminary Results
Thursday, September 22, 2011

Popularity Survey - DO IT FOR SCIENCE!
Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Zietsch's Response to PZ, Laden and Scicurious.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Personality of Cities
Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Discussion #1 - Walking Speed and City Size
Sunday, September 4, 2011
August (6)

People who Doodle Learn Faster = Bullshit
Thursday, August 25, 2011

Good News Everyone!
Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Got the Time? Part II
Saturday, August 20, 2011

Got the time?
Sunday, August 14, 2011

Can Randomness Predict the Future?
Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The House of Psycasm
Sunday, August 7, 2011
July (7)June (6)May (8)

Part 1: Do We Have Freewill?
Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Open Letter: A follow-up
Tuesday, May 31, 2011

This is a lie, she said.
Sunday, May 22, 2011

MSPaint is mightier than the Sword
Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Art of Indecision
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Skeptical Checklist 1.1
Friday, May 13, 2011

The Skeptical Checklist 1.0
Sunday, May 8, 2011

Of Chimps, Children and Post-Grads...
Monday, May 2, 2011
April (5)March (5)February (7)January (10)

Magical Thinking: Voodoo, Prayer, Black Cats, and You
Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Art of Character Creation
Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Video Game Morality: Actions inside the box?
Friday, January 21, 2011

Psychobabble goes live!
Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Trolley Problem: Who cares?
Sunday, January 16, 2011

Podcast delay and misc. Drugs!?
Saturday, January 15, 2011

My very own Natural Disaster
Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A window into your Genetics and Mate Preference?
Sunday, January 9, 2011

Oh sorry, I totally phased out there...
Thursday, January 6, 2011

Porn: A force of Mutual Benefits
Sunday, January 2, 2011
2010 (35)
December (7)

Statistical Pwnage
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why you should care...
Thursday, December 16, 2010

The paper of Influence
Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sharing: Part I - Emotions
Sunday, December 12, 2010

No-one cuts deeper than a Science Blogger.
Thursday, December 9, 2010

Me Meme [Ohh, links now]
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Half Full, or Half Empty? Well, That Depends on the Shape of the Glass.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
November (11)

What Your Voice Says About You
Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Babushka Blog: A Meta-Blog on ResearchBlogging.
Sunday, November 28, 2010

An Announcement:
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Willful Self-Deception is Bliss
Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dance, Blogger, Dance!
Friday, November 19, 2010

The Science of Marriage
Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Moon and Antarctica
Thursday, November 11, 2010

Available: One Mentee. Good Condition.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Again we are limited by our puny human-ness
Sunday, November 7, 2010

Blogging Carnival - What is Psychopathology?: Origins
Friday, November 5, 2010

*sigh* Psi: A Rebuttal
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
October (12)

The Science of Mind-Reading
Thursday, October 28, 2010

How not to think yourself smart...
Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Welcome to Assassins' League
Sunday, October 24, 2010

TODO LATER. A story of procrastination and forgiveness.
Thursday, October 21, 2010

A man and his words.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Little kids, little minds...
Sunday, October 17, 2010

Smoking (maybemightcould) is Good.
Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to stop the Apocalpyse
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How to trick yourself creative
Sunday, October 10, 2010

Siesta - It sounds like Fiesta, but isn't.
Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Dread Pirate Rift
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Being Blonde. Natural or otherwise...
Sunday, October 3, 2010
September (5)
Rate This Post
Total votes: 5
Blogger Profile

Psycasm

Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

Post Tags

m
Blog RSS Feed
RSS Add to My Yahoo Add to Google
Tuesday, October 26, 2010

ResearchBlogging.org

[Wherein our hero considers how he might think himself smarter. Yet it appears Brain-Training might just be woo.]

At this time of year I start wondering how to get an edge in my exams. Is studying really the best way about it? Last exam period I examined the best way to use caffiene, and I ran a series of informal experiments to figure my own personal method out [here]. 

This time round I was thinking - how can I improve my working memory / fluid intelligence. I'd heard a bit in the pop media about some tasks that can improve some general capacities and I thought sounds reasonable.

Fluid intelligence / working memory is your capacity to hold things in mind and access them quickely and efficiently; it's the capacity 'to hold a representation active in the face of distraction and interference'. I may be using those terms [working memory, fluid intelligence] incorrectly, so please correct me if that's the case. For instance I have a heavily weighted multichoice stats exam coming up. It would be useful to be able to peruse the whole sheet and kind of keep a running log of here are the questions on x, here are the questions on y... and be able to identify common threads. Now when you have a large number of variables and things to keep track of this becomes very difficult, but it sounds reasonable to assume one can improve that ability.

So I looked into it. I started with Jaeggi (2008) who claimed her dual N-back task was capable of improving ones fluid intelligence, generally speaking. The N-back is an attention and working memory arse-kicker. Play it here: http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/#download [it's a safe download, and a fairly involving task]. It involves holding and constantly updating a spatial and audio memory and matching congruence against incongruence.

Well, the big thing was that Jaeggi claimed the skills practiced here transfered generally to working memory, and weren't limited to the N-back itself. This is meaningful given that all data up to that point suggested that one can improve one's capacity at a certain activity, but only on that activity. Memory training and everything of that ilk is non-transferable. For instance I was once told to improve my memory I might take a deck of cards and turn a card over every day. Each day I ought to memorize that card. Each day the list of cards I'm supposed to hold in mind gets longer, and as a result my 'memory' improves. That sounds reasonable - I practice remembering and my capacity to remember improves.  However, the science suggests that I will only improve at my capacity to recall x on an x+1 daily basis. It's not going to allow me to hold shopping lists or phone number in mind any better. Jaeggi claimed her dual N-back task could transfer its benefit - that is, training in it would improve all kinds of working memory tasks.

It's a bit of a murky area. Those who stand to benefit from it the most - older adults who are staving off mental decline, and younger children who are yet to fully realize their capacities - may benefit from such training. According Carretti, Borella and De Beni such practise (at a working memory task) improved their capacity at the task to a significant degree. This is meaningful, some older adults may need such training. Dahlin, Nyberg and Backman (2008) looked more closely at children and found that a working memory tasked transfered to an untrained 3-back working memory task.  That sounds limited, but is pretty amazing - the kids did one thing, and got better at another.

But what about the young, educated, white male? How am I supposed to get an edge? How am I supposed to handle moderated multiple and heirarchical regression? What about mediation? Screw the -diation, what about me?

Owen, Hampshire and six others (2010) conducted a huge study, from which the following excerpt is ripped from their abstract:

Here we report the results of a six-week online study in which 11,430 participants trained several times each week on cognitive tasks designed to improve reasoning, memory, planning, visuospatial skills and attention. Although improvement were observed in every one of the cognitive tasks that were trained no evidence was found for transfer effects to untrained tasks, even when those tasks were cognitively closely related.

...and this mirrors the wider sentiment. Such cognitive training does not transfer. I'm sorry to all you nintendo DS owners out there engaging in your Brain Training, but the science suggests you're only getting good at improving your high score, not your general cognitive ability.

That's not to say it has no benefit - particularly for older individuals; and that's not to say it doesn't have other benefits, such as staving off cognitive decline (that's a whole different blog post, for sure). But if you're hoping to be able to remember someone's birthday a little better, I suggest google calendars.

So this is the first time this has happened to me. I went out looking for a way to improve myself, or use some science to my advantage, and I turned up nothing! I'm reasonably convinced that not only can I not improve my general working intelligence with a quick, easy 6-minute daily mental workout, but that nintendo and all those other clowns are ripping us off. In my mind you might as well stick with the Sodoku or the daily Cryptic.

...and so I'm afraid that's all I can offer today. Non-significance.

Oh well, such is science.

Owen, A., Hampshire, A., Grahn, J., Stenton, R., Dajani, S., Burns, A., Howard, R., & Ballard, C. (2010). Putting brain training to the test Nature, 465 (7299), 775-778 DOI: 10.1038/nature09042

Jaeggi SM, Buschkuehl M, Jonides J, & Perrig WJ (2008). Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105 (19), 6829-33 PMID: 18443283

Dahlin, E., Nyberg, L., Bäckman, L., & Neely, A. (2008). Plasticity of executive functioning in young and older adults: Immediate training gains, transfer, and long-term maintenance. Psychology and Aging, 23 (4), 720-730 DOI: 10.1037/a0014296

Carretti, B., Borella, E., & De Beni, R. (2007). Does Strategic Memory Training Improve the Working Memory Performance of Younger and Older Adults? Experimental Psychology (formerly "Zeitschrift für Experimentelle Psychologie"), 54 (4), 311-320 DOI: 10.1027/1618-3169.54.4.311

This post has been viewed: 1546 time(s)

Blog Comments

Psycasm
Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike

[Reposted from my facebook link without permission]

Excellent analysis. As a former user of brain-training products, you've confirmed my suspicion that I was only ever improving at the tasks on offer, as opposed to building broader competence. I do find still wonder whether there is some chance of these things working more effectively if the trainee is subjected to a very wide variety of cognitive tasks, rather than the usual 10-20 that I found myself cycling through on lumosity.

T.

gwern

Guest Comment

> Owen, Hampshire and six others (2010) conducted a huge study, from which the following excerpt is ripped from their abstract:

 

Owen 2010 didn't spend very much time training (not as much as Jaeggi 2008, IIRC), nor did it use the n-back tasks. Given that Jaeggi 2010 found differences between dual n-back and single n-back, even, this suggests the transfer can disappear if the task is tweaked too much, so that's 2 reasons Owen 2010 doesn't say anything about n-backing. There are also other studies: http://www.gwern.net/N-back%20FAQ.html#support


Psycasm
Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike

You're right. Owen et al didn't even come close to replicating the N-back study. Though my understanding is it reflects the general finding that such capacities are not transferable.

As for the cited support on the FAQ - neither of those additional references could really be called support. One's a conference paper (which can be considered, at best, preliminary) and ones a spreadsheet - and even without analysis I can tell you that the sample and power is going to be inadequate to draw any meaningful conclusions.

I'm open to be genuinely shown I'm wrong. I have no vested interests here, I was just interested to see what the science says about the brain-training thing.

As far as I can tell (after about 2 or 3 cumulative hours of research) is that it does work in those with a pre-existing deficit, in those yet to fully develop (the young) and those in a state of decline. It seems reasonable to think that any given person can improve, but the only person saying that (that I could find) was Jaeggi herself, and I'm not half as convinced by her voice alone than I would be if half a dozen researchers were saying it, too

aaa

Guest Comment

Rift said:

Though my understanding is it reflects the general finding that such capacities are not transferable.

 

That's not true.


Psycasm
Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike

It's not true that's my understanding? That's a fascinating capacity you have to infer what I know...

C'mon, you saw my reference list. Perhaps my research was inadequate, but the least you could do when challenging my opinion is to provide some kind of citation...

 


Will
UC Davis
Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike

I love it... it is not true that this is your understanding.  Come on Rift stop posting lies!  aaa is on your case!


yannisguerra
Rate Post:

Like 0 Dislike

Maybe aaa was falling asleep on his keyboard, and typed the reply for another post in this thread?

You should probably look at the data for physical activities training and cognitive capacities. I remember reading something about how doing several types of training for a specific physical skill would all improve a little bit the main skill (kind of a violinist reading scores, then listening to music, then practicing on the violin would do better than the one that only practiced on the violin all the time).

 

gwern

Guest Comment

Rift said:

As for the cited support on the FAQ - neither of those additional references could really be called support. One's a conference paper (which can be considered, at best, preliminary) and ones a spreadsheet - and even without analysis I can tell you that the sample and power is going to be inadequate to draw any meaningful conclusions.

? Polar is indeed just a spreadsheet (http://www.gwern.net/N-back%20FAQ.html#polar-june-2009) and Qiu a conference paper (http://www.gwern.net/N-back%20FAQ.html#qiu-2009 ; although I put less weight on it because I don't really trust Chinese replications and there's some odd things about Qiu); but Jaeggi 2010 (http://www.gwern.net/N-back%20FAQ.html#jaeggi-2010) was in a real journal.

Add Comment?
Comments are closed 2 weeks after initial post.
Friends