How to elevate your cognitive potential

How to elevate your cognitive potential

February 1, 2018 by Stella Petrou Concha

Nobody wants to perform below their potential. Yet many people seem to believe that they are stuck with the intelligence they are born with. But research has shown that, with the right training, anyone can enhance their intelligence.

What is fluid intelligence?

Psychologists split intelligence into two different kinds – fluid and crystallised. The bank of facts and knowledge you have in your head is known as crystallised intelligence, whereas the ability to learn new information and use it in creative ways is known as fluid intelligence.

It was once thought that of the two, fluid intelligence was the one that was resistant to change, unable to be enhanced and doomed only to diminish with age. But this belief has been put to bed by research that shows a ‘brain training’ game – known as the dual N-back test – gives players clear transferable fluid intelligence gains.

Silhouette of brain

Fluid intelligence – the ability to learn new information – can be trained and enhanced.

What is the dual N-back task?

Most ‘brain-training’ games have failed to live up to their potential. The analogy that companies selling these games trade on is ‘a gym for your mind’; lift mental weights and the gains you make in their games will transfer to other cognitive tasks. Unfortunately, the science has failed to bear this out. Players get better at the specific games they play but don’t improve on any others, showing the analogy with a gym to be simply incorrect at best and fraudulent at worst.

There is, however, one task that has managed to demonstrate transferable gains, by training fluid intelligence – the dual N-back test. Players of the game have to split their attention, watching and listening for patterns in an audio track and a graphic table.

A study by Susanne Jaeggi and colleagues tested game participants on whether their observed improvements in the dual N-back test would transfer to another unrelated cognitive task. They did.

Are there other ways of increasing fluid intelligence?

Can you just do the dual N-back task forever? It’s possible, but as Andrea Kuszewski pointed out in Scientific American, it probably won’t take long for you to get bored of the game; your motivation will likely fade before long, no matter the gains you might be making. That’s why she suggests adopting five principles to integrate into your life, all of which can help you grow your cognitive potential.

1. Seek novelty: Look for new experiences and ideas.

2. Challenge yourself: Don’t become comfortable in the way you do things.

3. Think creatively: Seek out-of-the-box solutions.

4. Do things the hard way: The easy road doesn’t have room for you to grow.

5. Network: Meet new and interesting people wherever you can.

Follow these principles and your brain will thank you for it!

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