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Surprising Science

Can We Make Ourselves Smarter?

While intelligence is largely an inherited trait, researchers have found that it’s possible to boost a core feature of human intelligence through a simple mental training exercise.

What’s the Latest Development?

Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a 15 minute mental exercise that boosted the intelligence of dozens of elementary and middle schoolers as measured by several standardized intelligence tests. The exercise is known as the n-back test which examines attention and memory. “After repeatedly playing the n-back game, the young subjects were better able to focus on the necessary facts. As a result, they squandered less short-term memory on irrelevant details.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Scientists have typically considered intelligence an inherited trait, especially fluid intelligence which has to do with general problem solving skills. This new n-back study, however, challenges that notion. “Our I.Q. scores may be bounded by our genes, but it looks as if it’s possible to significantly increase measured intelligence after only a few hours of training. ‘Intelligence is a lot like height,’ Prof. Jonides says. ‘We know that how tall you are is largely determined by the height of your parents. But we also know that better nutrition can make everyone a lot taller. Perhaps the n-back task is just an ideal form of mental nutrition.'”


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