A journalist’s account of the young science of brain training.
“Are smart phones the only thing we can make smarter?” asks Hurley in this debut, an expansion of a 2012 article in the New York Times Magazine. In fact, he reports, more than 60 studies show that cognitive training substantially improves the intellectual abilities of humans. The first such evidence was presented in 2008 by Swiss researchers Susanne Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl, who found college students who played a computerized game called the N-back for 20 minutes per day, five days per week for four weeks improved their fluid intelligence—the underlying ability to learn—by 40 percent. Despite lopsided evidence in favor of training effectiveness, many scientists continue to dispute whether the gains are real. In this conversational book, Hurley examines the research, describes heated debates at major science meetings, and chronicles his use of what he considers the most credible cognitive interventions to see whether he can improve his own intelligence. He explores several commercially available programs with “plausible claims of effectiveness”: Cogmed, whose computerized training helps individuals with ADHD; Lumosity, whose games are used to treat cognitive issues in patients with cancer and other diseases; Posit Science, which trains people with Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injury; and LearningRX, which uses playing cards and other materials. Hurley notes that violent video games—much used in the military—also improve a person’s speed, accuracy and visual attention. From these and other known cognition enhancers, he creates a personal program of grow-smarter activities and treatments, including N-back, Lumosity, physical exercise, learning a musical instrument and wearing a nicotine patch. After three and a half months of training, for two to three hours daily, tests show his fluid intelligence increased by 16 percent.
A highly accessible report on cutting-edge science with practical tips for readers bent on boosting their own intelligence.