Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Importance of “Fluid Intelligence”


I just finished reading a terrific article on fluid intelligence by Dan Hurley that was published in the NY Times on April 18th.

According to Hurley, “Psychologists have long regarded intelligence as coming in two flavors: crystallized intelligence, the treasure trove of stored-up information and how-to knowledge (the sort of thing tested on “Jeopardy!” or put to use when you ride a bicycle); and fluid intelligence. Crystallized intelligence grows as you age; fluid intelligence has long been known to peak in early adulthood, around college age, and then to decline gradually.”

So what is fluid intelligence and why should I care about it?  According to his article, “Fluid intelligence (is) the capacity to solve novel problems, to learn, to reason, to see connections and to get to the bottom of things.”

Hurley goes on to report that, “What long-term memory is to crystallized intelligence, working memory is to fluid intelligence. Working memory is more than just the ability to remember a telephone number long enough to dial it; it’s the capacity to manipulate the information you’re holding in your head — to add or subtract those numbers, place them in reverse order or sort them from high to low. Understanding a metaphor or an analogy is equally dependent on working memory; you can’t follow even a simple statement like “See Jane run” if you can’t put together how “see” and “Jane” connect with “run.” Without it, you can’t make sense of anything.”

Hurley traces the recent explosion in intelligence training back to a couple of relatively recent research studies. One of the studies that jump-started the interest in brain-building was a 2008 study by Susanne Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl in which they found that young adults who practiced a rather simple brain-builder game “…showed improvement in a fundamental cognitive ability known as ‘fluid’ intelligence: the capacity to solve novel problems, to learn, to reason, to see connections and to get to the bottom of things. The implication was that playing the game literally makes people smarter.”

Since the publication of this study,”… others have achieved results similar to Jaeggi’s not only in elementary-school children but also in preschoolers, college students and the elderly. 

The training tasks generally require only 15 to 25 minutes of work per day, five days a week, and have been found to improve scores on tests of fluid intelligence in as little as four weeks. 

Follow-up studies linking that improvement to real-world gains in schooling and job performance are just getting under way. But already, people with disorders including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.) and traumatic brain injury have seen benefits from training. Gains can persist for up to eight months after treatment.”

To be sure, there are still well-respected researchers who are suspicious of the results.

But there also guys like Harold Hawkins, a cognitive psychologist at the Office of Naval Research who oversees most of the U.S. military’s studies in the area, who expressed, according to Hurley, a now more and more common view, “For him, the question now is not whether cognitive training works but how strongly and how best to achieve it." In the NY Times article he’s quoted as saying, “Until about four or five years ago, we believed that fluid intelligence is immutable in adulthood. No one believed that training could possibly achieve dramatic improvements in this very fundamental cognitive ability. Then Jaeggi’s work came along. That’s when I started to move my funding from some other areas into this area. I personally believe, and if I didn’t believe it I wouldn’t be making an investment of the taxpayers’ money, that there’s something here. It’s potentially of extremely profound importance.”

As a brain-tumor victim, I found  Hurley’s article thoughtful, well-researched and helpful.  I think you will, too.  Here’s a link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/magazine/can-you-make-yourself-smarter.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2

Perhaps the most important learning I’m taking away from this article is the importance of working memory and it's connection with fluid intelligence.  With that in mind (so to speak), I’m going to spend more time on working memory focused games in Lumosity, e.g. Memory Lane (which I haven’t tried yet), Memory Match, Memory Match Overload, Monster Garden and Rhyme Workout.

No comments: