Finding a way to increase intelligence can therefore be seen as the holy grail of human success, at both micro and macro levels. So what is the evidence in terms of ways to increase intelligence? First off, let’s start with a refresher on intelligence, and its measurement. Intelligence and cognitive ability are captured by the measurement of the intelligence quotient (IQ). Based on the Cattell-Horn theory of intelligence, general intelligence can be broken down into crystallized (Gc) and fluid (Gf) intelligence. Gc can be likened to an accumulated body of knowledge and is improved through formal education and self-learning. You could argue that Jeopardy champions will have a very high level of crystallized intelligence. On this basis, one of the easiest way to increase intelligence is to stay in school longer and to pursue higher education and to remain intellectually inclined over one’s lifetime. So improving Gc is actualy fairly straightforward.
Increase intelligence – the fluid kind
Based on Cattel-Horn theory, fluid intelligence (Gf) relates to our ability to solve novel problems – as in, problems that you will never have encountered before. You could argue that Gf is the ‘purest’ form of intelligence and can be liked to the raw processing power of the brain. Individuals with high Gf have the raw brain power to be able to invest in their Gc. So Gf is really the pillar behind individual intelligence.
Gf is believed to be innate and cannot be improved through formal education. In 1990, Kyllonen argued that working memory capacity was highly correlated to fluid intelligence. Working memory, which is often used interchangeably with short term memory, can be likened to a mental scratch pad / or mental blackboard, where one can process mental calculations which are necessary for the effective solving of fluid intelligence problems. Because working memory and fluid intelligence are highly correlated, the theory goes that any exercises that would improve working memory would in turn boost fluid intelligence.
Dual N-Back to increase intelligence
The n-back task is a continuous performance task that is commonly used in neuroscience as an assessment in for working memory. The subject is presented with a sequence of audio and visual stimuli (i.e. a physical visual position of an object on a grid as well as a spoken / audio letter or number). The stimuli come sequentially and the test taker must remember the position of the visual stimuli or audio stimuli n-steps previously. The load factor n can be adjusted to make the task more or less difficult. In other words, you may be shown boxes appearing on a grid in North, East, South or West positions (including intermediary positions), whilst simultaneously hearing numbers being called out. The name of the game is to remember what the visual position and corresponding sound being called out were n steps back. So if n=2, you would need to remember the position of the box and the sound two tries back.
A 2008 paper by Jaeggi et al. argued that practicing dual n-back improved working memory and that practicing dual n-back led to improvements in fluid intelligence (Gf) across a number of IQ tests. Although the results of this study are subject to controversy, this is the closest evidence that it is possible to increase intelligence – and fluid intelligence.
I have practiced dual n-back and have noted a definite improvement in my working memory and short term memory. There are plenty of resources on the web providing users access to dual n back training. Although free n-back resources are available, IQ Mindware (www.iqmindware.com) offer a variety of paid-for apps which are specifically designed to help improve working memory and fluid IQ test results. Regular training will help increase intelligence by boosting your working memory capacity. The latest version of the program includes ‘interference control’ which the developers argue enhances IQ transfer. The relevance of this feature is explained here.
Train regularly to increase your intelligence and assess your IQ gains by taking our web-leading fluid intelligence tests here.