Brain “Boot Camp” Makes You Smarter

  by Jack Penland  |  December 31st, 2008  |  Published in All, Brain & Psychology, Featured, Weird Science


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Is getting more exercise among your New Year’s resolutions? What about some training for your brain? Researchers have put people through a series of brain exercises—a brain boot camp—and found that, just like exercise for your body, exercise for your brain pays off.

[If you cannot see the flash video below, you can click here for a high quality mp4 video.]

Interviewees: Susanne Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl, University of Michigan
-Produced by Jack Penland- Edited by James Eagan
Copyright © ScienCentral, Inc.

Train Your Brain

The idea of giving your brain a workout isn’t a new one, but the stumbling block has been to find a way to train your brain that actually shows improvement in other, unrelated mental tasks.

Susanne Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl, post-doctoral fellows at the University of Michigan, have been putting volunteers through an intense computer-based mental workout that is showing promise.

Jaeggi says they gave the volunteers basic intelligence tests both before and after the training and found that, “After training … people actually got smarter in these (intelligence) tests.”

Get Smart

She says, “In other training programs that are on the market, people get (better at a) particular task, so they form very task-specific strategies." However, she adds, “Their ability does not transfer to domains other than the training task, itself.”

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For example, she says, people have been able to train themselves to remember long sequences of numbers, but if the sequence changes to letters or shapes, people have to start over and re-train with the new material.

“We sat people in front of computer screens and they had to do a very complicated task,” explains Jaeggi. She says, “What people saw was squares coming up one after another… and they had to remember the order in which the squares were appearing.”

Writing in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” they said volunteers saw a series of squares and than had to press a button whenever a square matched a previously viewed square seen anywhere from one to nine squares back. At the same time people heard letters and had to press another button when the letters matched. As people get better, participants had to remember squares or letters that were further back in the sequence, making the task even more difficult.

Buschkuehl says in the post training tests the volunteers “solved 40 percent more problems (than) were presented to them than before the training.”
Jordan Harris is one of the people who volunteered to enter brain boot camp. He’s found a practical payoff, noting, “I used to lose jackets and clothes all the time, and I guess I haven’t had that problem recently.”

Their program is available at:
http://www.apn.psy.unibe.ch/lenya/apn/live/anwendung/braintwister-e.html

However, the researchers say people might get a similar effect by challenging themselves to try new things such as learning a language or a musical instrument or learning to do old tasks in new ways.

And just like physical exercise, they believe that the impact of these “mental gymnastics” is not permanent. Says Buschkuehl, “You have to constantly train in order to keep up a good performance.” However, they are doing further research to make sure.

Jaeggi says the analogy to physical exercise is a fair one, explaining that, “If you go jogging every day, you kind of train your very basic cardiovascular system.” She notes the improved cardiovascular system then makes things from walking stairs to bicycling easier. Of our brain, Jaeggi says, “Our basic working memory capacity that we exercise then tends to spread out in all other areas that rely on this working memory capacity.”

In other words, just like the improved cardiovascular system, the improved working memory results in improved performance in more than just the training program.
The researchers say this program is not just for smart people. Jaeggi says, “Our training actually works even better for the ones that start at the lower levels (on standard intelligence tests).”

The program is also useful for older adults. She noted the oldest volunteer was 90 years old, “so people can actually train throughout their life span.”

They’re now looking at the effectiveness of their training with children, including those with learning disabilities or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

People wishing to volunteer for their Brain Boot Camp can contact them at mcastltrainers@gmail.com.

This research was published April 28, 2008, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and supported by grants from The Swiss National Science Foundation, National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Elsewhere on the Web:


Download the Researcher’s Training Program

The Franklin Institute-The Human Brain

Neuroscience for Kids—Brain Fitness


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Responses

  1. curtis says:

    January 1st, 2009 at 3:30 am (#)

    That is super interesting. I want to try that program now.

  2. Martin Walker says:

    January 1st, 2009 at 8:12 am (#)

    My company has also published a faithful version of the n-back training method. It can be found at http://www.mindsparke.com. It’s somewhat less expensive in $US.

    Martin

  3. Brian says:

    January 2nd, 2009 at 2:52 pm (#)

    You can do this on your iPhone with “IQ boost”

    (iTunes link) http://itunes.com/apps/iqboost

    IQ boost implements the methods used in this study. It also has an excellent tutorial and extensive stats to track your progress.

  4. Memory Exercises says:

    April 3rd, 2009 at 7:25 am (#)

    Great post.
    I’ve been to the site for the program but its not there; whats happening?

    Stephen Kember

  5. Memory Exercises says:

    April 3rd, 2009 at 10:40 am (#)

    Great post. For those that are interested I’ve just left another blog [which I have nothing to do with] but where there are 20 really intersting scientific interviewswith members of the medical fraternity that build on whats here; have a look at: http://www.sharpbrains.com/resources/neuroscience-interview-series/

    Stephen

  6. Memory Exercises says:

    April 17th, 2009 at 3:48 am (#)

    The point about persistance is really important and why for many memory exercises are not seen as working its because people stop doing them before they have had a chance to make an impact.

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    May 23rd, 2010 at 12:03 pm (#)

    i enjoy camping specially in dense wooded tropical forests. camping is a fun way to spend time with your friends too.’:,

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    June 15th, 2010 at 9:17 am (#)

    These two researchers are my heroes, as they have allowed me to make sense of my own life. I find their work to be worthy of a Noble prize.

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    camping outdoors is one of my favorite, it is quite relaxing to be with friends.’~*

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    I do love camping!I find it exciting and adventurous activity.But I don’t have an idea that there is this what you called “brain boot camp game”. I guess this is great too.Gonna have to try this next time.

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