One of the benefits of keeping an open mind and being willing to listen is that you often stumble across little gems of information… Just like the article in Scientific American, that talks about 5 ways you can do to maximise your cognitive potential. Anything that is about brain development and increasing cognitive potential is always on my radar so this one naturally took the cake.
The author, Andrea Kuszewski, wrote about an interesting study “Improving Fluid Intelligence with Training on Working Memory” by Jaeggi, Buschkuehl, Jonides, and Perrig.
Fluid intelligence or fluid reasoning is the capacity to think logically and solve problems in novel situations, independent of acquired knowledge. – Wikipedia
Working memory is the ability to actively hold information in the mind needed to do complex tasks such as reasoning, comprehension and learning. – Wikipedia
Although working memory and intelligence are not the same, Kuszewski likens working memory to giving a machine the best parts to help it perform at its peak. Developing and improving our working memory has a direct effect on our fluid intelligence because it allows us to think better. Kuszewski summarised the findings of the study as follows:
1. Fluid intelligence is trainable.
2. The training and subsequent gains are dose-dependent—meaning, the more you train, the more you gain.
3. Anyone can increase their cognitive ability, no matter what your starting point is.
4. The effect can be gained by training on tasks that don’t resemble the test questions.
In the study, they used an intensive, multimodal (visual and auditory input) working memory task (called the dual-n-back), however, there are limitations to this task in improving fluid intelligence in the real world. Firstly, although it is a tough task, you will eventually run out of variations which will limit your cognitive improvement. Secondly, you’ll eventually get bored of doing it.
To apply the findings in the study to our lives in a practical way, Kuszewski recommended the following five ways to increase fluid intelligence:
1. Seek Novelty
2. Challenge Yourself
3. Think Creatively
4. Do Things The Hard Way
Seeking Novelty and Challenging Yourself
Before when I wrote about brain training programs, what you want is a variety of brain training programs rather than sticking to only one program because the variety provides novelty and the novelty provides new challenges. Once you get good at it, it’s time to move on to the next activity.
It is a little like a fitness program. When you first start, your initial gains are great – you build muscle, you lose weight, etc. After a while, you start to notice a plateauing of your gains – your weight starts to stabilise and your muscles seem to stop growing or are growing very slowly. That’s because your body has acclimatised to the activity and has figured out how to perform the activity in the most efficient manner. In order to kick start your weight loss again, you would have to do something different. And so it is with brain training.
Here are some examples of teaching children to think creatively in “Raising the Achievement of All Students: Teaching for Successful Intelligence” by Robert J. Sternberg:
- Create a game for learning the names of the states, or a poem, or a new numerical operation, or a scientific experiment.
- Invent a toy, or a new way of solving a difficult mathematics problem, or a new system of government that builds on old systems of government, or a haiku.
- Explore new ways of solving a mathematics problem beyond those taught by the teacher, or how to achieve a certain chemical reaction or different ways of reading so as to improve your reading comprehension or the nature of volcanoes.
- Imagine what it would be like to live in another country, or what will happen if temperatures on the Earth keep rising, or what Picasso might have been thinking when he painted Guernica, or what might happen if the United States switched to the metric system of measurement.
- Suppose that people were paid to inform on their neighbors to the political party in power—what would happen? Or that all lakes instantly dried up—what would happen? Or that schools stopped teaching mathematics—what would happen? Or that Germany had won WorldWar II—what would have happened?
- Synthesize your knowledge of the Vietnam War and the recent War in Afghanistan to propose a set of battle techniques that is likely to work in many unfamiliar kinds of terrains.
Do Things the Hard Way
One example Kuszewski gives is to stop using a GPS if you are using one. Make your brain work for you rather than relying on technology to simply for your life for you. Here is another example I can think of – instead of reaching for the calculator, use your brain to work it out.
Well, I guess this one speaks for itself. For our children, it comes in the form of socialising and making new friends.