Study finds n‑back cognitive training can increase fluid intelligence (especially outside the USA)

workingmemoryImprov­ing flu­id intel­li­gence with train­ing on work­ing mem­o­ry: a meta-analy­sis (Psy­cho­nom­ic Bul­letin & Review):

…due to the broad inter­est in cog­ni­tive train­ing, lab­o­ra­to­ries around the world are inves­ti­gat­ing the effects of train­ing and trans­fer. In fact, the first study of n‑back train­ing on Gf (flu­id intel­li­gence) was con­duct­ed in Switzerland…and from our own expe­ri­ences con­duct­ing research both inter­na­tion­al­ly and in the U.S., we have anec­do­tal­ly observed moti­va­tion­al dif­fer­ences across cul­tures. There­fore, we sought to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly test for any region­al dif­fer­ences in Gf  gains… our mod­er­a­tor analy­ses sug­gest sev­er­al pos­si­ble para­me­ters that could be opti­mized in order to design more effi­ca­cious inter­ven­tions that might have more sub­stan­tive impacts on intel­lec­tu­al and soci­etal functioning.

The most strik­ing mod­er­a­tor of the observed trans­fer effect is geo­graph­ic region. Inter­na­tion­al stud­ies tend to find more trans­fer than U.S. stud­ies. There is a sub­stan­tial body of lit­er­a­ture avail­able on the effects of cul­ture on cog­ni­tion. These effects may con­tribute to dif­fer­ences not only between inter­na­tion­al and U.S. research par­tic­i­pants, but also between method­olog­i­cal prac­tices of researchers. How­ev­er, due to the plu­ral­i­ty of cul­tures (most­ly Euro­pean and Amer­i­can) rep­re­sent­ed in our meta-analy­sis, the pre­cise rea­sons for the observed region­al dif­fer­ences are not imme­di­ate­ly clear. There is no dif­fer­ence in base­line ES between inter­na­tion­al and U.S. stud­ies, there­by rul­ing out pre­ex­ist­ing dif­fer­ences between cul­tures or dif­fer­ences in par­tic­i­pant char­ac­ter­is­tics due to the high­ly selec­tive uni­ver­si­ties in which cer­tain U.S. stud­ies were con­duct­ed. One hypoth­e­sis, how­ev­er, based on our own expe­ri­ences with both U.S. and inter­na­tion­al pop­u­la­tions, is that the for­mer may be gen­er­al­ly less com­pli­ant, a cru­cial fac­tor in an inten­sive train­ing pro­gram such as the one inves­ti­gat­ed here.”

From the study:

  • Con­clu­sions: Our work demon­strates the effi­ca­cy of sev­er­al weeks of n‑back train­ing in improv­ing per­for­mance on mea­sures of Gf. We urge that future stud­ies move beyond attempts to answer the sim­ple ques­tion of whether or not there is trans­fer and, instead, seek to explore the nature and extent of how these improved test scores may reflect “true” improve­ments in Gf that can trans­late into prac­ti­cal, real-world settings…Since Gf is a fun­da­men­tal cog­ni­tive skill that under­lies a wide range of life func­tions, even small improve­ments can have pro­found soci­etal ram­i­fi­ca­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en the healthy young adults in our analy­ses, rep­re­sen­ta­tive of soci­ety’s work­force. Tak­en togeth­er, it is becom­ing very clear to us that train­ing on WM with the goal of try­ing to increase Gf holds much promise.
  • Abstract: Work­ing mem­o­ry (WM), the abil­i­ty to store and manip­u­late infor­ma­tion for short peri­ods of time, is an impor­tant pre­dic­tor of scholas­tic apti­tude and a crit­i­cal bot­tle­neck under­ly­ing high­er-order cog­ni­tive process­es, includ­ing con­trolled atten­tion and rea­son­ing. Recent inter­ven­tions tar­get­ing WM have sug­gest­ed plas­tic­i­ty of the WM sys­tem by demon­strat­ing improve­ments in both trained and untrained WM tasks. How­ev­er, evi­dence on trans­fer of improved WM into more gen­er­al cog­ni­tive domains such as flu­id intel­li­gence (Gf) has been more equiv­o­cal. There­fore, we con­duct­ed a meta-analy­sis focus­ing on one spe­cif­ic train­ing pro­gram, n‑back. We searched PubMed and Google Schol­ar for all n‑back train­ing stud­ies with Gf out­come mea­sures, a con­trol group, and healthy par­tic­i­pants between 18 and 50 years of age. In total, we includ­ed 20 stud­ies in our analy­ses that met our cri­te­ria and found a small but sig­nif­i­cant pos­i­tive effect of n‑back train­ing on improv­ing Gf. Sev­er­al fac­tors that mod­er­ate this trans­fer are iden­ti­fied and dis­cussed. We con­clude that short-term cog­ni­tive train­ing on the order of weeks can result in ben­e­fi­cial effects in impor­tant cog­ni­tive func­tions as mea­sured by lab­o­ra­to­ry tests.

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SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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