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Brain games are bogus
April 9, 2013 3:33 AM   Subscribe

"Brain training games don't actually make you smarter." Looking at recent meta-analyses and replication attempts of studies showing increased cognitive abilities gained from brain-training games, the New Yorker article comes to the conclusion that the results are suspect and these games haven't been shown to improve cognitive abilities broadly. Currently, brain training is a multi-million-dollar business.
posted by tykky (61 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think the problem here is that while working memory is a trainable skill, without a whole suite of other attributes-- for example, curiosity, and the ability to draw connections between ideas -- one isn't going to be able to do much with it. I actually learned to quickly memorize lists of things in school so I could pass tests, but I always thought that was kind of orthogonal to whether I was 'smart' or not. To me, intelligence has always been about contextualizing information, not simply memorizing it. There's an important difference.
posted by empath at 3:47 AM on April 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


Why not just take up bridge or chess or go, pay no one much money, and make new friends playing, if you think that big-brain games will save you?
posted by thelonius at 3:54 AM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


...intelligence has always been about contextualizing information, not simply memorizing it.

This is exactly why I didn't take notes in HS or college. Transcription and memorization distracted me from understanding.

I had no idea brain games were such a big business, but I guess it's not a surprise. The self-help sector in general is big and stupid. If you want to get better at something, don't take some roundabout, meta-path that "activates neural pathways" or whatever. Just...do it. You want to make friends? Go out and make some. Want to get better at math? Do some math. Want to learn how to cook? Enter a kitchen.

I remember my dad used to have all these self-help books. The things he was self-helping were a constantly shifting constellation. It was really just a way to think about himself all the time. Self-help really should be called self-absorbed.

(This is all different from genuinely educational materials, of course. For instance, when learning to cook you may want a cookbook or two. But you need to include that in an iterative process that also includes time in a kitchen.)
posted by DU at 4:00 AM on April 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


I had no idea brain games were such a big business, but I guess it's not a surprise. The self-help sector in general is big and stupid.

Don't forget the standardized testing business. There's a lot of money to be made from scamming the educational system.
posted by empath at 4:04 AM on April 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


And yet Malcolm Gladwell still writes for this magazine.
posted by oneironaut at 4:05 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do people think that they will make them smarter? I would have thought most people use them to stay mentally exercised, which is different.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:24 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I have two "mental challenge" type page-a-day calendars right here on my desk. I use them to gauge if I'm awake enough to actually work yet.
posted by DU at 4:25 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Brain games are not bogus. I've been training my mind with some games that I came up with on my own, such as "Shame Challenge", "Failure Memory Workout" and "Humiliation Matrix".

I've been able to more than double my anxiety levels.
posted by orme at 4:26 AM on April 9, 2013 [60 favorites]


I thought these "brain games" were more about keeping minds agile, not increasing IQ.

My parents like to play a few rounds of games in the morning (Freecell, which they ROCK on, for example) to get their heads awake, and to (hopefully) stave off dementia. Has there been any research into these games' effect on the latter?
posted by sutt at 4:32 AM on April 9, 2013


Yeah, people I know who are into them tend to cite dementia prevention. I don't know if there is evidence for that either, but they don't think playing these games is going to make them geniuses.
posted by Jimbob at 4:35 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I played dual n back every day for a long time, and got pretty good at it. I don't think it made me smarter but I got to know my mental states better... For exampke I am consistently utterly terrible at it in the morning.
posted by miyabo at 5:02 AM on April 9, 2013


Why not just take up bridge or chess or go, pay no one much money, and make new friends playing, if you think that big-brain games will save you?

But, but...technology!!!
posted by Thorzdad at 5:04 AM on April 9, 2013


Well, what does make you smarter, then?
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:07 AM on April 9, 2013


So those Lumosity commercials are a lie as well as profoundly annoying?
posted by orange swan at 5:10 AM on April 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


If you can't trust pop up ads in free iPhone games, who can you trust?
posted by tommasz at 5:13 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]




This is from the New Yorker's new Science and Tech blog: Elements. I just snarked at them on twitter that they haven't updated their summary of RSS feeds on their summary page here. I mean starting a science and tech "blog" with no RSS is like the very definition of irony, right? As always happens when I snark, I put my foot in my mouth. While not advertised on the summary page, they do have a RSS feed for this blog here.
posted by cnanderson at 5:16 AM on April 9, 2013


Luminosity also sells your personal information, supposedly.
This is exactly why I didn't take notes in HS or college. Transcription and memorization distracted me from understanding
Some people don't have problems understanding.
posted by delmoi at 5:19 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some people don't have problems understanding.

Appently you're not one of them
posted by iotic at 5:24 AM on April 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


Burn.
posted by pracowity at 5:24 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why not just take up bridge or chess or go, pay no one much money, and make new friends playing, if you think that big-brain games will save you?

Or you could try that old favorite: spend many, many hours mentally converting strings of letters, spaces, and punctuation into images, ideas, and stories (and vice versa).
posted by pracowity at 5:26 AM on April 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


So I, like everyone else who has a Gmail account or uses the internet, have seen those Lumosity ads several hundred times. I had no idea until now that the company was called Lumosity and not Luminosity.
posted by Gordafarin at 5:59 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Even if they did work the problem is that you have to be dumb to initially buy these games so they have to produce significant improvement even just to dig you out of the intellectual hole you are already in.
posted by srboisvert at 6:02 AM on April 9, 2013


So I, like everyone else who has a Gmail account or uses the internet, have seen those Lumosity ads several hundred times.

You ought to train yourself not to read ads. Until I read your comment and went back to hunt around my gmail screen, I had never seen one of these ads even once, and I use gmail every day.
posted by pracowity at 6:07 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a timely article for me. I was looking into these games for my son, who has an extremely poor working memory. He's entering a college program in the fall that will help him understand his learning issues and hopefully succeed despite his LD, but in the meantime I thought I'd give him something to do on his iPod. Is there anything that can improve working memory?
posted by Biblio at 6:09 AM on April 9, 2013


If brain games don't make you smarter then presumably ads for brain games actively make you dumber. So I'm gaining on the general population just by installing AdBlocker and I don't even have to lift a finger.
posted by DU at 6:12 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


As someone who fell for the initial marketing hype, I glad the science has caught up.
posted by KaizenSoze at 6:15 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


You ought to train yourself not to read ads.

I would, except I work in marketing. I get paid to notice ads, which has the unfortunate side effect of noticing them outside of work hours.
posted by Gordafarin at 6:16 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


So those Lumosity commercials are a lie as well as profoundly annoying?

You mean Metafilter's Own Lumosity?
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:25 AM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Seconding that reading engaging and challenging books (or community weblogs?) routinely in the morning and/or night will do much more to improve your cognition and sharpen your mind than "solve a bunch of easy arithmetic problems in under 30 seconds," which is just, like, uselessly firing off neurons in your brain somewhere. But hey, if people want to pretend that casual gaming is good for them, be my guest. It's a harmless waste of time.
posted by naju at 6:26 AM on April 9, 2013


But what will PBS do to raise money if they can't have people selling brain lore during pledge week?
posted by Currer Belfry at 6:27 AM on April 9, 2013


Next someone will disprove that playing Mozart to your fetus makes it smarter.

Gwern's dual n-back report.
posted by bukvich at 6:34 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't for a second believe that these games make you smarter. What I do know, from first-hand experience, is that the arithmetic drills in things like BrainAge absolutely helped me suck less at basic math. I tend to freeze up with simple calculations, and when I was doing BrainAge on a regular basis, I did find that I didn't panic when faced with a restaurant bill or adding up a list of numbers. Also, it's been several years since I've played that game, and that sense of insecurity when it comes to numbers has definitely come back. I can only assume it's all about working certain mental muscles.
posted by shiu mai baby at 6:35 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I get paid to notice ads, which has the unfortunate side effect of noticing them outside of work hours.

Oh, that's awful for you. I avert my eyes and turn the volume down whenever an ad tries to catch my attention. When it's an inescapable ad before an online video, for example, I kill the volume and focus my eyes on the "your video starts in X seconds" message or the volume control until I see cues in my peripheral vision that the corporate message is finished and the video is starting up. It's one of the brain games I like to play.
posted by pracowity at 6:50 AM on April 9, 2013


"Yeah, people I know who are into them tend to cite dementia prevention. I don't know if there is evidence for that either"

There are studies going back some years that people who do the daily newspaper crossword puzzle or the daily sudoku puzzle have lower rates of dementia (here's the first example I googled up, BBC article), but I don't know how much correlation/causation was broken out in those studies as a general thing; most daily newspaper crossword doers would, of course, be of a socioeconomic class that took a daily paper, and were probably more likely to read said paper, and so on.

I don't play a "brain training" game in particular, though I have in the past, but my interest is primarily that I like solving little puzzles like that. I'm just as happy with one of those puzzle magazines from the supermarket. If it makes my brain more healthy for the long term, that's great, but mostly I just like solving little puzzles. Like, I don't eat spinach because it's good for me, I eat it because it's YUMMY. Especially with feta.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:51 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I was just writing a similar comment as Eyebrows McGee posted about enjoying these games for fun, and not expecting any significant value from them. That's my approach too. I have no objection at all to people enjoying solving crosswords, sudoku or playing go. I've enjoyed those things too. But when making claims that they have effects outside making you better at solving or playing them specifically, we naturally should look at the science behind these claims very carefully.

There's certainly a lot of potentially useful research that can still be done about these issues, and I am sure will be. Here is a case where negative results are the ones we've seemed to end up with (if you accept the case the article is making), but it's not like we know everything about our minds already. (I mean negative in the sense that no effect has been found.)
posted by tykky at 7:00 AM on April 9, 2013


I checked it out, because it'd be something to do at work when I was bored, but was miffed to learn that the thing was for-pay and figured I'd just track down free games instead. I can't speak to my own mental agility in the realms Lumosity measures, but I am at least smart enough to not pay for "brain teasers" that I can find for free.

You mean Metafilter's Own Lumosity?

God-dammit, we all should have gotten Metafilter discounts or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:02 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fifteen years ago, my mum had a moderate stroke which left her deeply addled. Her doctor recommended doing the daily word and number puzzles in the paper as a way of at least preventing further loss and for possibly regaining some of the lost functions. Mum never does anything halfway so she's managed to do the newspaper puzzles every single day of the past fifteen years.

And, talking to her, you couldn't believe she ever had a stroke. Her memory has returned to its previous state and she's incredibly sharp, though now annoyingly addicted to puzzles. I know anecdote!=data and correlation!=causation, but wanted to point out that this sort of thing seemed to work for at least one person.
posted by honestcoyote at 7:06 AM on April 9, 2013


Some people don't have problems understanding.

Some people think they understand, but don't.

The problem is, it's hard to be sure which one you are until you spend some time holding it up to everything else and seeing if it all fits together.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:33 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


My parents like to play a few rounds of games in the morning (Freecell, which they ROCK on, for example) to get their heads awake, and to (hopefully) stave off dementia. Has there been any research into these games' effect on the latter?

I'm not sure about brain training in particular, but there are studies suggesting that any sort of mental puzzle (Sudoku, crosswords, etc.) help keep your mind sharp and are correlated with a reduced frequency of dementia. However, I've also seen studies which suggest that, if you don't vary the activities you engage in, the effect doesn't last because you get used to the particular type of puzzle you've chosen and your brain no longer has to work harder/creative new pathways/etc. in order to figure out how to solve it.

And, from what I'm aware, these studies simply show a correlation. As Eyebrows McGee notes, the causes could be related to socioeconomic status or other factors, rather than the games themselves.
posted by asnider at 8:25 AM on April 9, 2013


Okay, so, here's A Thing I've been thinking about a lot lately and I guess this thread is as good a place to ask it as any, since we all presumably have some interest in brain function and memory and cognition.

I was pondering the other day on how much I like being in shape, having that feeling of my body being able to make a pretty good go of anything that I asked it to do. And I try to intentionally do a number of different things when I work out to get that really solid well-rounded quality. So I swim and lift weights and climb sometimes and do yoga and (dreadfully) run, because I like (the illusion of) knowing that if something completely new and unexpected came up and I needed to, like, drag an injured person 30 yards I could at least try really hard and not feel like a total useless failure.

But I have no idea what I should be doing to achieve that same flexibility in my brain. I read a lot. I'm pretty smart by most metrics. I'm trying to work on learning a new language. But I'm not sure what I should be doing to keep my brain off-balance and constantly working like I do with my body. Should I be, like, doing simple household chores blindfolded? Should I be learning to write with my left hand? Should I be looking at people on the street and then trying to remember, in detail, what they looked like? Is there even an answer for how to build that kind of on-the-fly can-do-whatever mental agility?

As always this was partially inspired by fiction reading, where a heroine in a novel was learning espionage. I love those sorts of like-Rocky-but-intellectual training montages, but then I realized... the authors never give details on what the characters are actually doing to achieve such godlike powers.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:27 AM on April 9, 2013


Yet another "just give up" genre story on metafilter that scientifically proves there is no way, no matter how hard you try, or how much you want it, to improve yourself in any way.
posted by Halogenhat at 8:43 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why not just take up bridge or chess or go, pay no one much money, and make new friends playing, if you think that big-brain games will save you?
I actually started doing dual n-back a couple years ago in attempt to increase my chess skills.

It certainly didn't hurt (my rating went up but I was doing other things as well). I did feel like my ability to bear down and focus when I really needed to (e.g., analyzing a critical variation in my head) went up, but I have zero proof of that. Doing it before a game was also good at warming up my brain with a non-chess task and distracted me from feeling nervous about the upcoming game.

That said, I stopped doing it after a couple months (too boring) and didn't feel a dropoff in sharpness.
posted by dfan at 8:51 AM on April 9, 2013


I was involved in cognitive research on working memory training and have spoken to Susanne Jaeggi, the originator of the dual N-back task, several times.

I don't have the time to leave a more detailed comment, so I will just point out that "brain training" is just another instance of an easily explained and imagination-capturing idea leaking out into popular culture and getting commercialized in a potentially dishonest way.

I don't know what specific claims companies like Lumosity and PositScience lay out in their marketing materials. I'm sure the eager public is happy to overlook small-print caveats and just buys into the better/stronger/faster million-dollar man delusion. If science is going to catch up to these claims, it definitely hasn't yet.

Whether or not you want to call it working memory (WM), and some may disagree, the capacity that is measured by tasks like N-back can be trained and increased. The interesting challenge is to show whether multiple related tasks are training the same capacity. In other words, do related tasks all train WM, or are the gains specific to each task, and to what extent?

Another interesting and important question is whether WM can be identified with "fluid intelligence" or g-factor more generally. There is also quite a bit of not entirely conclusive research about gains on WM tasks propagating to IQ tests and other measures of general intelligence.

There is also quite a bit of somewhat related research on brain plasticity, reversing or halting age-related cognitive decline, and so on.

Basically, there is science on this collection of topics, and it's a vital, diverse, and evolving area of research. Is science at a point when effective products can be sold without caveats or qualifications? No, not by a long shot. This software is essentially just alternative medicine for the brain.

Personally, I am very concerned that some segment of the population could be relying on these games to the exclusion of actual, proven medical treatment when that is called for. I'd also really, really hate for the availability of software like Lumosity's to be cited as an excuse to provide less accessible treatment for learning disabilities and acquired mental disorders. That would be really, really bad, and if alternative health supplements are a good analogy at all, almost guaranteed to happen. For example, I can easily imagine my mother using this software rather than having to go to a doctor.

But apart from those concerns, which are always present when sensationalist soft science gets commercialized, I really do have to stress that this is a fascinating area of research that could potentially provide a range of far-reaching benefits. If these products actually worked as hoped, they would be ground-breaking.
posted by Nomyte at 9:04 AM on April 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


I liked this part:

Melby-Lervåg first became interested in working-memory training because she works with children who have learning disabilities, and she knew their parents were signing up for Cogmed. Pearson is a respected name that is strongly associated with education. “Since they work with children with learning disabilities, they have a responsibility to market programs that are evidence-based,” she said. “It’s unethical.”


I don't believe that's what it says in the Ethics textbook at Harvard Business School.
posted by bukvich at 9:32 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


without a whole suite of other attributes-- for example, curiosity, and the ability to draw connections between ideas -- one isn't going to be able to do much with it.

But without the building blocks, the piecing-together isn't as effective. I used to hate rote memorization, too. Playing music as an example, you can't really progress without having some stuff down cold and in your toolbox for whenever you want it, like scales, the 60 chords, etc. Turns out the easiest way for lots of people is to rote memorize them at the beginning, before you even know what you're going to do with them.

I'm kind of going through the same discovery learning Mandarin right now. Yes, character flash cards are not very much fun, but it sure is easier to focus on grammar and sentence construction once I'm not struggling to read the individual words.

I'm not taking a side on whether or not the puzzle books actually make your brain any better or not. I think puzzles are fun, no need for grandiose claims of long-term effects.

I do think a lot of people in this world could stand to practice some LSAT-type logic exercises, though.
posted by ctmf at 9:39 AM on April 9, 2013


Associative memory is far more useful in memorizing than just using repetitive rote memorization. Even new concepts are more easily handled if you have a flexible associative memory and can make those connections, common memory tricks often rely on it. The story of the one case of someone having perfect recall is fascinating in this respect. Although the person could literally memorize long strings of data instantly and recall it years later, they also had perfect associative memory. Which sounds awesome, but it wasn't at all. Reading was actually painful because they associated everything with every possible interpretation. Think about that for a second. Something like "the quick brown fox" could have thousands of different meanings all cascading down through your attention at the same time and they all have the same strength through perfect recall. That would be more of a curse like Superman's ability to hear everything.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:28 AM on April 9, 2013


Disappointing news.

When I was in the hospital, during my recovery phase of my brain injury, I was given a lot of digital handheld games (scrabble, poker, etc) and was scheduled time on the Xbox as part of my therapy. The theory was that all these various games was to "exercise the brain".

I tried Lumosity but, like others, I was already smart enough not to pay.
posted by _paegan_ at 10:51 AM on April 9, 2013


Big Data is all the rage these days. Pay for something with your credit card, or Google it, or look at it on Facebook, and a database entry gets made about it. Computers use this information to sort people into groups; group members that are likely to buy something are aggressively targeted until they buy it.

Age, gender, browsing habits, type of games played, hair color, skin color, amount of alcohol consumed, kind of car you drive, where you live, last time you bought treatment for headlice, and how much you pay for it all - all this stuff and much more is known about you. But until lately there's been one rather interesting and important data point about people that isn't in these datasets: IQ.

Lightbulb goes on: "Why not get people to pay with their credit card to take an IQ test?"

There's a reason that Lumosity's CFO is a Goldman Sachs alum with an interest in disruptive technology, folks, and it's not because he wants to help humankind.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 12:48 PM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, what does make you smarter, then?

The same thing that makes you taller: having different parents.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:50 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The same thing that makes you taller: having different parents.

I thought the jury was still out as to the extent to which intelligence was heritable -- or even inborn.
posted by KathrynT at 4:31 PM on April 9, 2013


I'm kind of going through the same discovery learning Mandarin right now. Yes, character flash cards are not very much fun, but it sure is easier to focus on grammar and sentence construction once I'm not struggling to read the individual words.

I tried that for literally years learning a foreign language at school and immediately forgot it as soon as I stopped taking classes.

A few weeks in a foreign country with absolutely no intentional memorization at all and I did much better.

I also took music classes full of rote memorization, and I learned a lot more actually sitting down and making music than I ever did trying to learn scales.

Practice is far, far, far more important than memorization, and they are not the same skill at all.
posted by empath at 5:29 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought the jury was still out as to the extent to which intelligence was heritable -- or even inborn.

I am afraid that it not accurate. The jury has returned its verdict, gone home, and the members are telling their friends about the trial at dinner parties. By the time one is 18, the heritability of general intelligence is about .85. Or, a lay explanation. ("A century’s worth of quantitative-genetics literature concludes that a person’s I.Q. is remarkably stable and that about three-quarters of I.Q. differences between individuals are attributable to heredity.")

Practice is far, far, far more important than memorization, and they are not the same skill at all.

This is only true if "memorization" means "rote". Memorization does not have to be "rote". Do you have to practice to memorize the plot of a movie you have seen once?
posted by Tanizaki at 4:55 AM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


By the time one is 18, the heritability of general intelligence is about .85

That paper refers to a single Dutch twin study to support those numbers, but it doesn't actually cite that study. The author says that "most of the references" can be found in his earlier work, but I loaded up the one paper he cites and couldn't find references to this study in it. Do you have access to the original study? If so, can you share it? Without the original reference study, this claim is shady indeed.
posted by KathrynT at 8:20 AM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think people are conflating skill and smartness. Playing Sudoku doesn't make you smarter. You learned that math in first grade. It makes you faster at doing that math and more experienced at symbol substitution puzzles, but it isn't going to give you knowledge you didn't previously have, or allow you to understand string theory any better than you might already have.

(What it *might* help you with is the skill of sticking to a tough problem, the skill of working through the frustration.)

Like empath (and my drunk uncle at every family event) says, you can learn to play a song perfectly, but not know a lick about music. You can practice putting your fingers in the right spot at the right time, but that won't help you understand why you are doing it. Although I'd disagree about the scales- scales are how you learn to operate the instrument you are playing.
posted by gjc at 8:30 AM on April 10, 2013


Without the original reference study, this claim is shady indeed.

Actually, it isn't "shady indeed". It really is quite uncontroversial to say that general intelligence has high heritability. If you were to walk around cognitive psychology departments saying that the idea is "shady indeed", your lack of basic familiarity with the last 100 years of research would be showing. It's about as bad as denying evolution in terms of Didn't Do The Research.

If you would like a more general article, I commend this 1996 article from American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association, to your attention. Its heritability figure of .75 is likely the source of the NY Times article that I linked in my previous comment. The heritability discussion starts in earnest on page 8 of the PDF. You may also wish to consult this recent study from Behavioral Genetics.

Denying the heritability of general intelligence is a form of creationism. Variance between brains can lead to heritability of sexual orientation but not general intelligence? Why would that be?
posted by Tanizaki at 8:46 AM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


skill and smartness

How are you defining those things? Because this is a thing.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:31 PM on April 10, 2013


You may also wish to consult this recent study from Behavioral Genetics.

Did you, by any chance, even read the summary of the article you linked too? I mean, it's called "Reconsidering the Heritability of Intelligence in Adulthood: Taking Assortative Mating and Cultural Transmission into Account"
Heritability estimates of general intelligence in adulthood generally range from 75 to 85%, with all heritability due to additive genetic influences, while genetic dominance and shared environmental factors are absent, or too small to be detected. These estimates are derived from studies based on the classical twin design and are based on the assumption of random mating. Yet, considerable positive assortative mating has been reported for general intelligence. Unmodeled assortative mating may lead to biased estimates of the relative magnitude of genetic and environmental factors.

Under the preferred phenotypic assortment model, the variance of intelligence in adulthood was not only due to non-shared environmental (18%) and additive genetic factors (44%) but also to non-additive genetic factors (27%) and phenotypic assortment (11%).This non-additive nature of genetic influences on intelligence needs to be accommodated in future GWAS studies for intelligence.
44 + 27% is only 71%, while you claimed the number was 85% and completely settled, and this study doesn't seem to take into account in-utero effects as well, which could play a big role as well and can't be separated from genetic factors in twin studies.

People aren't claiming that intelligence isn't hereditary - but if you look at something as easy to measure as height it's clearly hereditary, and also clearly related to environment as well. It's only when children are all well-fed that they can reach their actual height potential, honestly my personal view is that our educational system is nowhere near it's true potential at this point in time. And obviously, if you tried to measure the heritability of height in a society where most people were malnourished it would obviously mess up your results, as the apparent variability would be higher then it would be if everyone got to eat as much as they needed.

And of course the quality of education you do get is tied to your socioeconomic as well as geographic position. Some areas have crap schools while other ones have great ones, just as some areas had famines and food shortages when others didn't. Those things can be controlled for in twin studies, of course, but as I said not in-utero effects.

posted by delmoi at 7:02 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I, for one, don't take much comfort in the thought that only 71% of IQ might be heritable and not 85%.

But the science is much less clear than many people make it out to be, for one thing because of the Flynn Effect, and for another because there's a strong national wealth effect, as Ron Unz explained in this recent piece.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:59 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


And, from what I'm aware, these studies simply show a correlation. As Eyebrows McGee notes, the causes could be related to socioeconomic status or other factors, rather than the games themselves. ... I'm not sure about brain training in particular, but there are studies suggesting that any sort of mental puzzle (Sudoku, crosswords, etc.) help keep your mind sharp and are correlated with a reduced frequency of dementia. -- asnider
I think I remember hearing somewhere that keeping the mind active not only keeps it working well but also helps keep you alive.

I think it's pretty likely that 'working out' the brain probably does help it stay sharp. The brain itself is flexible and new synapes form while at the same time old ones get removed (both 'intentionally' as well as due to deterioration). If your brain isn't getting any inputs or work then it seems like it's possible that old connections could disappear without new one coming in, or it's possible that forming new connections can help replace ones that are 'dying off' simply due to old age.

That's obviously just a hypothesis, and the effect might only be minor. But we also know seniors who have more intellectual stimulation/contact with people tend to live longer (IIRC).

And even if that is true for older people, it's possible that younger people might not need it. On the other hand, Lumosity's ads always seemed like B.S. to me, just the fact that they advertise so much - it reminds me of all those ads for 'natural male enhancement' except promising to make your brain bigger, rather then your dong. I also remember reading that their business model involved 'utilizing' all the data generated, I would bet you could learn a ton about someone's buying habits by having them play certain games or something. Looking around a bit this article says they use anonymized the data for research. This article says it is a subscription service, so at least you're the actual customer not the 'product being sold'.

I also wonder how much their games are designed to teach people, as opposed to simply being addictive and roping you in. Of course, making a game addictive will keep you playing and help you learn too.

Plus, I think the most effective way to make yourself smarter is to go out and actually learn new things, watching Khan Academy videos is probably a more efficient use of time.
There is also quite a bit of not entirely conclusive research about gains on WM tasks propagating to IQ tests and other measures of general intelligence. -- Nomyte
Well, there are definitely techniques you can apply to boost your ability to do well on standardized tests, which is how IQ is measured. So I think it's definitely possible to boost your measured IQ.
Yet another "just give up" genre story on metafilter that scientifically proves there is no way, no matter how hard you try, or how much you want it, to improve yourself in any way. -- Halogenhat
I don't think that's true at all. I just think people are pointing out that this particular method might not be a good way to do it. If you want to be smarter go out and learn new stuff!
Is there anything that can improve working memory? -- Biblio
(Like I said, I think the best way to get smarter is to learn new things. There are lots of different memorization techniques you can learn that can improve your memory (not sure if that applies to 'working' memory though). When I got my first cellphone (a monochrome Nokia in like 2000) I would play the memory game and it usually took me a ton of flips to get the board right. But when I read about a simple memory trick to memorize lists of arbitrary things by making up a story linking them together. Once I tried using it I basically instantly became able to memorize the game board and solve it with zero to one errors like every single time I played it. It wasn't a gradual improvement at all, I just went from needing to do lots of trial and error to solve it to being able to memorize the entire thing and recall it perfectly without error (and when it tried to do it without the technique I went back to doing poorly)


So, I personally think the answer is yes, there are ways to improve your memory, or at least more efficiently use the memory you do have)
But without the building blocks, the piecing-together isn't as effective. I used to hate rote memorization, too. Playing music as an example, you can't really progress without having some stuff down cold... -- ctmf
Well, if you're playing a particular piece, don't forget muscle memory is going to play a big role as well. That's true of a lot of skills, and really you can't replace it by smartness, because it's usually stuff on really short timescales. Something like typing, even though I'm typing different things every time, the keys my fingers actually hit is all related to muscle memory, in fact I can't even keep up with them consciously

(and not only that, because I kept thinking about my typing and my finger movements while I was writing that paragraph I started making lots of typos! :P)
I'm kind of going through the same discovery learning Mandarin right now. Yes, character flash cards are not very much fun, but it sure is easier to focus on grammar and sentence construction once I'm not struggling to read the individual words. -- ctmf
You should try mnemosyne or another spaced repetition program if you're not already. It supposedly increases efficiency, but it also makes it less boring just because you're not always seeing cards you already know, and less frustrating because you don't see as many cards you're totally unfamiliar with as well)
Practice is far, far, far more important than memorization, and they are not the same skill at all. -- empath
IMO, Practice actually is a form of memorization through repetition. But it means repeating methods and processes for doing things. Rather then data. In order to do a math problem, you have to go through all the steps required to solve it, and in order to do the steps you have to remember them.

If you think about (how we think) learning works in the brain, it's going to be a similar process in both cases, neurons fire together get linked together whether it's a fact, or a muscle sequence or a mental process or whatever.

(Of course, while we know a lot there is far more we don't know about the brain, so I'm definitely not saying "this is how it works, for sure", there could be major differences involving things we have no idea about at the moment)
So I, like everyone else who has a Gmail account or uses the internet, have seen those Lumosity ads several hundred times. -- Gordafarin
Dude, Adblock.

I do most of my browsing with firefox, with adblock. I leave it off in chrome and honestly I don't know how people can even stand browsing without it for extended periods. When you're not used to seeing them, it can actually be really shocking just how annoying they actually are on a lot of sites.

The funny thing is I didn't install it just to block ads, I thought it might help improve security/privacy (since sometimes ad networks get hacked and/or take bad ads.) but once I got used to it it's like a breath of fresh air.

(That said, when I do sometimes brows the web in chrome Lumosity ads have shown up quite a bit.)
I get paid to notice ads, which has the unfortunate side effect of noticing them outside of work hours. -- Gordafarin
Oh, that's awful for you. I avert my eyes and turn the volume down whenever an ad tries to catch my attention. When it's an inescapable ad before an online video, for example, I kill the volume and focus my eyes on the "your video starts in X seconds" message or the volume control until I see cues in my peripheral vision that the corporate message is finished and the video is starting up. It's one of the brain games I like to play.
Well, technically ads are supposed to work (maybe even work best) if you don't notice them and they fade into the background. But one thing about using adblock is that when you do encounter ads it's totally jarring. So many of them so tacky and so stupid and so obviously trying to manipulate you that they end up seeming totally absurd or ridiculous even like they are insulting your intelligence.

___
This is exactly why I didn't take notes in HS or college. Transcription and memorization distracted me from understanding --DU
Some people don't have problems understanding.
Appently you're not one of them -- iotic
'Appently', hmm?

Anyway, I mean understanding professors giving lectures, rather then inscrutable internet comments. Did you mean I didn't understand DU's comment, or that I lack understanding in general? Obviously, I can't really speak to the latter, but I took his comment to mean that if he tried taking notes in a lecture it would distract him from the task of understanding what the professors were saying.

But if you understand right away way is being said without any effort, then you can't really be distracted from it. I mean if it's something like a history class where they're just going over names, dates, events, it's usually not that difficult to understand, the more complex the material, the more likely you are to get to an idea that is more difficult to understand and takes time to think through, but for some people that might happen less frequently then for others.

posted by delmoi at 8:12 PM on April 10, 2013


44 + 27% is only 71%, while you claimed the number was 85% and completely settled, and this study doesn't seem to take into account in-utero effects as well, which could play a big role as well and can't be separated from genetic factors in twin studies.

I did not say" the correlation is .85 and completely settled". I said that general intelligence is largely heritable, which is the consensus view. The correlation factor for heritability in adults in the literature tends to range between .7 and .9. To give you an idea of how high this correlation factor is, the heritability of height in humans is about .8.

Someone mentioned the Flynn effect. What is rarely mentioned by laymen is that the Flynn effect is only noted in a subset of fluid intelligence tests such as the Ravens and Norwegian matrices, as is discussed to some extent in the linked Wikipedia article. The Flynn effect is not a general phenomenon. It is not observed on g-loaded tests such as the SAT, which show remarkably little long-term variance. And, it is not observed in even this subset of fluid intelligence tests in the developed world anymore. To the extent it had a course, that course has run.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:06 AM on April 11, 2013


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