Tapping Into Your Brain’s Better Half

What if I told you that no matter how many years you’ve been improving your intelligence here at UC Irvine, you have been neglecting a portion of your brain’s capability? What if I told you that right now, this portion is at its peak, and it is only going to get weaker? If you were told you could strengthen this portion, would you? The better question is: How could you even resist?

This is not a small portion of your intelligence either. In fact, this portion affects all other aspects of your intelligence. This neglected portion is called fluid intelligence, which is at its peak in our college years and then gradually declines. As opposed to our crystallized intelligence, a sort of “muscle” that can be trained through time (per study and experience), fluid intelligence, the ability to make connections, reason, memorize or solve comprehension questions, has been known to be impervious to training. Which would mean this is the best time of your brain’s life, and it’s all downhill from here.

To give an example, the “use it or lose it” understanding of learning a new language is crystallized. You can learn the conjugation and pronunciation of French, and the more you practice, the better you remember and utilize this skill. But what happens when your ability to memorize the pronunciation or conjugation starts to fade? What about the ability to match a word with an object? What about the ability to differentiate the inflection of a question from a statement in that language? These abilities are fluid. So how would you feel if you were told that those abilities weaken over time, and are unable to be re-sharpened?

Well, studies dating back several decades have recently emerged with controversial findings, that fluid intelligence might not be as impervious as we thought. Though there are arguments that dismiss the study in its entirety, comparing it to the impossibility to cold fusion, the results of these experiments have been impressive enough to convince whole schools to utilize these practices in hopes to exercise the fluid part of the brain and preserve its aptitude for as long as possible.

Having been inspired by the mere rumor that I could train the fluid part of my brain, I went on a search for the program mentioned in the study. I downloaded the free version of The “Dual N-Back” test. The study argued that for 25 minutes a day for five days a week, you could increase your IQ score by an average of 10 points. Some test subjects even showed a 20-point increase.

Though I don’t have a week of results to provide an idea of the effect, I also included daily exercises with http://www.lumosity.com and saw a steady increase over a three-day period. This three-day period alone has already helped me with my memory. Being able to remember a number without writing it down, a schedule of times for the next week are just among a few changes I’ve seen since I first started.

Scientists neutral on the subject don’t refute the ability to train fluid intelligence, but rather what method is the most effective.  Different methods are being experimented on students from kindergarteners to college students. But regardless, the theory at present is that we have the ability to train the previously thought impervious fluid part of the brain. And since our ability to train our crystallized intelligence depends heavily on how well our fluid intelligence works, it is within all of our best interests to have a little faith and give a little time to the most atrophied part of our brain and see if we can’t give ourselves step up in this quarter’s midterms.

To download a free version of the “Dual N-Back” test, go to: http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/.

 

Genevieve Hanson is a second-year religious studies and literary journalism major. She can be reached at gmhanson@uci.edu.