When my infant son woke me at 4:30am this morning, what question crept into my head? Can we figure out the optimal training approach, or optimal training approaches, for generating transfer to fluid intelligence; what do we know, what can we deduce, and how can we measure our theories?
I don’t want to assume just one answer. The answer may differ from person to person or from day-to-day. We’ve discussed some of the differences between taking breaks and training straight through, between canceling a block and not, between meditating between blocks and not, and between training frequently or less frequently. We’ve also discussed how we might consistently measure working-memory and transfer to fluid intelligence.
I thought it might be helpful to state some of the principles at work, as I understand them, and begin an open discussion of this topic. If we develop some theories, we may be able to test them out. (This might ultimately involve an on-line study along the lines that Shaun framed out, but with the added dimension that we could compare different training strategies.)
Or we might simply provide food for thought so that people can try out different approaches and find what works best for them.
1. Working-memory gains transfer to fluid intelligence gains. The Jaeggi, Buschkuehl research hypothesized, tested, and demonstrated the validity of this principle; we can use it to help us think through training approaches and measurement strategies. (We might accept that measuring increases in working-memory is as relevant as measuring increases in fluid intelligence…)
2. Progressive training of working-memory increases working-memory focus and span. The dual n-back training method exemplifies this principle, requiring us to use visual and aural working-memory simultaneously.
So, in considering different ways to approach the dual n-back training sessions, we must try to determine, if we can, which of the strategies will most effectively lead to working-memory increases.
3. Maximum short-term working-memory capacity does not necessarily reflect effective working-memory capacity. By this I mean that we can increase our short term performance on the n-back task and on a working-memory span test by meditation, exercise, etc. but that this doesn’t necessarily reflect an increase in our day-to-day or long term working-memory capacity. (I increased my n-back average to 7.0 when I was using block cancellation, breaks, meditation, etc., but when I train straight through without extensive use of these techniques, my n-back score hasn’t been higher than 6.5.)
We must be careful to consider this in any measurement methodology.
4. Neurogenesis and plastic change require focused attention on a task, as well as a sense of satisfaction, pleasure, or achievement from the task. (Through the release of acetylcholine and dopamine respectively.)
These are the core principles as I understand them.
We also have two other findings that we should consider:
5. Sleep consolidates gains. Open question – could some form of meditation or deep relaxation substitute for sleep and might it be used to help boost long term working-memory?
6. Exercise vs. no exercise boosts short-term performance.
So, an effective dual n-back training approach must be rewarding, focused, and demanding.
Some tricky questions:
- Strategies that help boost short-term n-back scores (training after exercise, taking breaks, canceling blocks, etc.) can lead to increased satisfaction by boosting n-back score. But this increase in satisfaction may come at the expense of demanding more of our prolonged focus and attention.
- The straight-through strategy can lead to FLOW and the satisfaction of training more frequently. Does it demand less of us in the work of stretching working-memory span? (Example: Since I’ve been going straight through I’ve been spending more time at n=5 and 6 and less at n=7 and 8.)
Alright, I’ve probably said enough. Others please chime in…
PS. I’m going pin this post to the blog home page so that it’s easy to find.