'Brain training' may boost working memory, but not intelligence

October 8, 2013
Science Daily/Association for Psychological Science
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Brain training games, apps, and websites are popular and it's not hard to see why -- who wouldn't want to give their mental abilities a boost? New research suggests that brain training programs might strengthen your ability to hold information in mind, but they won't bring any benefits to the kind of intelligence that helps you reason and solve problems.

The researchers administered a battery of tests before and after training to gauge improvement and transfer of learning, including a variety of WMC measures and three measures of fluid intelligence.

The results were clear: Only students who trained on complex span tasks showed transfer to other WMC tasks. None of the groups showed any training benefit on measures of fluid intelligence.

"For over 100 years, psychologists have argued that general memory ability cannot be improved, that there is little or no generalization of 'trained' tasks to 'untrained' tasks," says Tyler Harrison, graduate student and lead author of the paper. "So we were surprised to see evidence that new and untrained measures of working memory capacity may be improved with training on complex span tasks."

The results suggest that the students improved in their ability to update and maintain information on multiple tasks as they switched between them, which could have important implications for real-world multitasking:

"This work affects nearly everyone living in the complex modern world," says Harrison, "but it particularly affects individuals that find themselves trying to do multiple tasks or rapidly switching between complex tasks, such as driving and talking on a cell phone, alternating between conversations with two different people, or cooking dinner and dealing with a crying child."

Despite the potential boost for multitasking, the benefits of training didn't transfer to fluid intelligence. Engle points out that just because WMC and fluid intelligence are highly correlated doesn't mean that they are the same:

"Height and weight in human beings are also strongly correlated but few reasonable people would assume that height and weight are the same variable," explains Engle. "If they were, gaining weight would make you taller and losing weight would make you shorter -- those of us who gain and lose weight periodically can attest to the fact that that is not true."
Science Daily/SOURCE :http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131008091720.htm

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