Cognitive Training and Fluid Intelligence

An earlier Healthymemory Blog Post, “Improving Cognition”, reported an interesting and important study on the successful training of fluid intelligence. Crystalized intelligence refers to knowledge that we have learned. Fluid intelligence refers to the ability to comprehend new information and to solve problems. Typically, it is fluid intelligence that declines as we age. Absent dementia, crystalized intelligence remains fairly constant and can increase. So, although this study was done using elementary and middle school children, it still holds promise for us baby boomers. Research using baby boomers is in the future. This experiment was too detailed and complicated to include in a short blog post. Fortunately, this research is available on line for free. It is “Short- and long-term benefits of cognitive training” by Susanne M. Laeggi, Martin Buschkuehl, John Jonides, and Priti Shah. It is available at www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1103228108.

The experiment did present evidence not only for the boosting of fluid intelligence, but also for its successful transfer after a 3 month hiatus from training. Unfortunately, not all students benefited from the training. Only those students who performed well on the training tasks exhibited the benefit. Students who had difficulty with the training tasks did not show the benefit. The authors also presented the following conclusion, which is as valuable as the findings themselves.

“We conclude that cognitive training can be effective and long lasting, but that there are limiting factors that must be considered to evaluate the effects of this training, one of which is individual differences in training performance. We propose that future research should not investigate whether cognitive training works, but rather should determine what training regimens and what training conditions result in the best transfer effects, investigate the underlying neural and cognitive mechanisms, and, finally, investigate for whom cognitive training is most useful.”

When you read statements like, “IQ cannot be increased”, or “Cognitive training does not transfer to other tasks,” remember that you cannot prove that there is no effect. Rather, the null hypothesis (no difference) fails to be rejected. The distinction here is subtle, but important. Moreover, the conclusion is restricted to the particular training programs, and to the population of subjects from which the sample in the study was drawn. So we need to understand why programs work and for whom they work. And when programs do not work we need to understand why and for which populations they do not work. Then they need to be modified so that they do work for specific populations. And we need to research for whom different types of cognitive training are most useful.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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