A ‘method’ question that came up during my first session

Session number: 1

Average n-back: 2.2

Duration (min.): 30

Hey. I hope it’s okay that I post a question here. Also, sorry for the fairly long post, but I’m trying to explain something which is pretty abstract, even a bit vague maybe, and it’s difficult to describe it in fewer words.

I have a question that could perhaps be called ‘methodological’. I just bought the program and did my first training session (at the end of which I went from n=2 to n=3). In this first session, I noticed that I instinctively can think of two different ways to go about doing the exercise:

Approach #1: Let’s call it the ‘intuitive’ approach. While doing the exercise, I don’t think how I am solving it. I just *somehow* store as much of the information as I can, and recall it as good as I can. It’s a bit like I’m letting my mind focus on the problem, without trying to grasp *how* I’m actually doing it. You could also say it’s sort of “formless”… my mind just works on it, without me being able to put into words the exact representation of the problem and the algorithm going on in my mind while I solve it.

Approach #2: Let’s call it the ‘explicitly visualized mental representation’ approach. I very precisely visualize and conceptualize what I am doing, *while* I’m doing the training. Basically, I imagine a
sort of stack on which I put the items. In the case of the small stack I need so far (n=2 or 3), it’s easy to imagine this. The leftmost item on the stack is the oldest, the rightmost the newest item. Whenever a new item appears, I compare it to the relevant one on the stack, then push the oldest item out of the stack, and all the other items move one to the left. The ‘visual’ items are a back square with white circle that marks the position at that time, the ‘audio’ items are little letters I put on the stack, i.e. in both cases, I store mental pictures.

Here’s how I performed with those two methods in my first session: I got the overall best results with approach #1 (the intuitive one), around 11 hits if I concentrated, but I’m not sure if approach #2 would be better in the long run.

With approach #2 I did a few runs where I did the visual and audio problems separately (i.e. only concentrating on visual items, or only on the audio), and doing so I easily got perfect recall in those cases (well, obviously “perfect” as in 6 out of 12 hits, since I only aimed at doing half of the exercise). I wasn’t able to do both audio and visual side together with approach #2 yet, i.e. I couldn’t visualize 2 stacks (or 2 different types of items on one stack), but I’m kind of sure I could train myself to be able to do so.

Okay, so here’s my question: How should I proceed? Should I continue for the rest of the training with the ‘intuitive’ method (which seems to give overall better results, and which is easier and more intuitive in a way), or should I try to use the ‘explicitly visualized mental representation’ method? The latter seems to have a bit of an ‘overhead’, i.e. I lose some time/brain computing cycles visualizing that stack, but then again, I know from experience that sometimes an approach that seems cumbersome at first is actually more efficient in the long run.

Brain Fitness Pro working-memory training report.

This post was submitted by minvogt.

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One Response to “A ‘method’ question that came up during my first session”

  1. martin says:

    Hello, Minvogt.

    This is exactly the right place to post this kind of question. And it’s an interesting one. There’s also no categorical answer.

    Here’s what we know from the research:

    Improvement in n-back score doesn’t correlate to improvement in intelligence. The study authors concluded that working at the task was the important thing. Which makes sense since other studies have shown that intensive attention stimulates brain change, divided or casual attention does not.

    The study also mentioned that developing strategies for improving recall didn’t generate greater benefits and perhaps even reduced benefits.

    Here are my own thoughts:

    It is essential to stay focused on the task as much as we can. This applies to either approach. And our ability to focus will vary from one block to the next and from one day to the next. On some days or at some points in a session we might be more inclined to the ‘intuitive’ approach and at other times to the ‘explicit’ approach. (I find this myself.)

    So, from a practical perspective, I would advise you to use the approach that works best for you but don’t lock yourself to one method or the other; allow your approach to shift and change.

    From a theoretical perspective it’s interesting to consider how the two approaches differ in terms of what’s being trained and how it might benefit us:

    The ‘intuitive’ approach seems to tap into brain processes that are just below the level of conscious thought — not the deep subconscious, but the upper layer of the subconscious. It’s easy to imagine that training these functions would help us in problem solving and general thinking since we’ll get the brain working more effectively on remembering and processing the data without requiring explicit thought.

    The ‘explicit’ approach trains our ability to consciously focus on and process information. These are also very valuable thinking skills and tend to work in close collaboration with our ‘intuitive’ or subconscious skills.

    My overall conclusion would be that training both intuitively and explicitly provides a greater overall benefit than training just one way or the other. The dual n-back training task certainly gives us the opportunity to do just that as long as we let it.

    As you work through the n-levels I expect you’ll find that it difficult to continue to progress by using just one or the other method, and that you will develop a kind of hybrid that shifts back and forth as your focus shifts during a session.

    Best wishes, and thank you for your question!

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