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Those abilities, which are called fluid intelligence, are thought to be predictors of educational success. Researchers have long debated whether fluid intelligence can be sustainably improved by training.
In a study involving 62 elementary and middle school children from southeast Michigan, the researchers tested whether training aimed at boosting working memory, which allows people to store and retrieve small amounts of information over brief periods, can improve fluid intelligence. Susanne Jaeggi, Martin Buschkuehl, John Jonides and Priti Shah, all researchers in the U-M Department of Psychology, conducted the study.
The authors assigned students to one of two groups that trained for a month—five times a week and 15 minutes per session—on computerized tasks resembling video games. While one group trained on a task that engaged working memory, the other group exercised general knowledge and vocabulary skills.
Three months after training ended, the children who trained well on the working memory game performed better on tests of fluid intelligence, compared with those who did not train as well or those who trained on general knowledge and vocabulary.
“Individual differences in training influenced the children’s performance on the intelligence tests,” Jaeggi said.
A difference could involve a child with a large training gain improved more in fluid intelligence because he started off with lower ability and had more room for improvement. Another difference could be the finding that children who did not benefit from the training found the working memory intervention too difficult and required too much effort, were easily frustrated, and became disengaged.
The researchers said short- and long-term benefits of cognitive training can be compared to the overall health improvement from a person exercising.
“Our current finding makes sense when you think of physical training,” she said. “If you don’t try and really go running instead of just walking, you won’t improve your cardiovascular fitness.”
The researchers are now investigating whether this intervention might also be beneficial for children with working memory and attention deficits. In addition, they are working on an intervention which can be easily implemented in schools and other educational settings.
The findings appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and the research is funded by the Department of Education’s Institute for Educational Sciences.
Contact: Jared Wadley
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