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Surprising Science

Which Brain Games Can Make You Smarter?

Certain cognitive tests that improve attention and working memory have been shown to increase people’s IQ scores, once considered a fixed measure of how smart someone is. 

What’s the Latest Development?

A cognitive game known as the N-back test has been shown in some studies to increase people’s IQ scores, a feat that was considered impossible just a few years ago. The game challenges players to remember something, such as the location of an object or a particular letter, which is presented “immediately before (1-back), the time before last (2-back), the time before that (3-back), and so on.” By making the game gradually more difficult, the task overwhelms the usual task-specific strategies that people develop with games like chess and Scabble, working to affect a more comprehensive intelligence.

What’s the Big Idea?

The N-back test is thought to improve fluid intelligence, which psychologists consider distinct from crystallized intelligence, defined as the accumulation of knowledge over one’s lifetime. Fluid intelligence, by contrast, is “the ultimate cognitive ability underlying all mental skills, and supposedly immune from the usual benefits of practice.” Working memory and attention skills are the gears of fluid intelligence and they are two metrics which brain games seek to measure and improve. If the effects of the N-back game are verified in future experiments, we may see businesses and government investment gather around making their employees and citizens smarter. 

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