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Groundbreaking Research Released This Week – Improving Your Intellectual Abilities

05May 2008

Earlier this week (Monday, April 27), the National Academy of Sciences released some pretty amazing research that was picked up by the New York Times and other major media.

For the first time ever, scientists have identified a cognitive training process that actually increases a person’s intelligence (aside from teaching the test items on an intelligence test!)

The training process, a structured process of improving one’s working memory, addresses the same skill set that has previously been shown to reduce the severity of symptoms for ADHD individuals.

“Working memory” is the ability to hold information mentally “online” while doing something with the information (or doing some other mental task). It is used in reading comprehension (remembering what you just read while reading the next section), math computation (especially in multiple step problems), or remembering a series of tasks to do while working on them. For IT people, it is very similar to RAM.

The research released by the National Academy of Science asserts the following. (The article is written in terms of “fluid reasoning” which is viewed as the core set of skills on which intelligence is built.)

1. Fluid reasoning is generally the ability to reason and to solve new problems independently of previously acquired knowledge.

2. Fluid reasoning is considered one of the most important factors in learning.

3. Fluid reasoning is closely related to professional and educational success, especially in complex and demanding environments.

4. Previously, no training has been shown to improve fluid reasoning, aside from directly “teaching the test” (and this training does not transfer to real life functioning).

5. Research now indicates that training on a demanding working memory task is shown to improve individuals’ fluid reasoning (both for low level and high level individuals).

6. The training is dosage-dependent. The extent of gain in intelligence depends on the amount of training — the more training, the more improvement in fluid reasoning.

So, to say it plainly, this indicates that there is an identifiable way to increase your complex problem-solving ability. A second related research finding was released a week ago. At the annual Cognitive Neuroscience Society convention, Cogmed working memory training presented research that demonstrates normal adults (that is, adults who do not have significant medical or learning problems) can significantly improve their working memory through the Cogmed working memory training program. This was true both for a group of 20 to 30 year old adults and older adults from 60 to 70 years old.To me, if the research proves hold true, the implications seem significant.

*Individuals who struggle with more complex reasoning and learning have a proven method that can help improve those skills.

*Businessmen and executives can sharpen their mental abilities through a computer-based training program.

*Students who want to improve their performance on standardized admission tests (ACT, SAT, GRE, MCAT, LSAT) will probably be able to do so through working hard to improve their working memory. [Already research has shown working memory training to improve students’ reading comprehension and math calculation abilities.]

*Older adults who are slowly losing cognitive abilities as part of the normal aging process may be able to, at least, “stem the tide”. [Working memory has been shown to decline 10% each decade after the age of thirty.]

So, we will see what happens. If the research shows itself to be true and valid, a revolution of cognitive training may point to this past week as a watershed moment. If not, then social scientists may again be accused of overstating their case. From what I have seen in the body of research, I think we may be in the midst of something very significant.

NOTE: For those of you in the Wichita area, I will be presenting on the Cogmed working memory training program and its impact on ADHD individuals, as well as sharing this latest research on improving intelligence. Wednesday evening, May 7 at 7 p.m., Wichita Collegiate School. The presentation is open to the public. Call my office, 316-681-4428 for more information.

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