Can mental exercises that make your brain more nimble also make you smarter?
Until now the answer would have been no. Scientists have always assumed that general problem-solving ability—the kind of intelligence measured on IQ tests—is fixed because it’s inherited and can’t be taught. But results of a new study found that it may be possible to increase brainpower after all.
Researchers at the University of Michigan thought it stood to reason that improving short-term memory could also improve intelligence, because both rely on the same brain circuits. Then they designed a challenging computer-based program to test the theory.
The researchers divided 70 students into two groups: The first had no training, and the second was trained using a complicated computer program designed to improve short-term memory. All the students, with an average age of 25, took standard intelligence tests.
The second group was split into four subgroups that were given either eight, 12, 17, or 19 days of training in computerized memory tasks. Then all students took IQ tests again. Researchers found that the trained groups showed significant gains in IQ, compared with the control group. And the longer the training, the greater the gain.
“We found it astonishing that we could show this kind of improvement,” says co-author Martin Buschkuel. “In the near future we hope to bring this training to people who could profit from it, such as brain-damaged patients.” Can it also benefit people over 50? “We don’t know yet, but we’re working on it.”
The paper was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on April 28.