New Evidence That IQ Can Be Increased With Brain Training | Psychology Today

Improvements in relational skills can enhance IQ

Source: New Evidence That IQ Can Be Increased With Brain Training | Psychology Today

A new scientific paper I produced along with Sarah Cassidy and other colleagues, published in the journal Learning and Individual Differences, shows that significant increases in general intelligence, of 28 points on average, can be produced by undertaking online relational skills training. Furthermore, significant improvements in overall educational aptitude can be achieved by a few months of practicing one’s relational skills.

Bryan Roche
Source: Bryan Roche

In previous blogs, I have outlined the rationale behind this training and argued that a Relational Frame Theory (RFT) approach to intellectual development may hold the key to a functional approach to brain training. That is, RFT claims to have identified some basic building blocks of intellectual development, which center around the ability to understand complex inter-relations among stimuli. For example, understanding that if something is opposite to two other things, then those two things must be the same as each other, involves a relation skill. As another example, if one object is worth more than another, the second one is worth less than the first. The idea that these skills not only underlie intelligence, but constitute it, is core to RFT, a modern behavioral approach, although it sits well with more mainstream cognitive approaches.

While most of us are relatively proficient in basic relational skills, we are actually quite deficient in solving more complex relational problems. To address this deficiency, a form of online brain training called SMART training (Strengthening mental abilities with relational training) was developed by Relational Frame Theory researchers at Maynooth University.

The Cassidy et al. study is the second such study to be published by the Maynooth University team to show that SMART training can increase general intelligence as measured by standardized IQ tests, such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). This new study, however, provides additional evidence that scholastic ability, as measured by a gold standard aptitude test known as the Differential Aptitude Test (DATs), also increases as a result of this very particular form of intellectual skills training.

As documented in previous research, the IQ rises cannot be easily accounted for by practice at the IQ test, because the IQ test was administered only twice, with a several month interval between administrations. Furthermore, IQ rises due to practice are usually very small compared to the rises reported in this latest study. Further still, the training administered to the sample of 11-12 year old children employed in Experiment 1 of this study, was dissimilar to an IQ test. The same applies to the DATs aptitude test. This was administered only twice, and the increases in scores observed for numerical and verbal reasoning far outstripped the increases expected by practice at the test itself. Once again, the online relational skills training did not in any way teach the items on the DATs test.

This is the second SMART study to achieve what critics of “brain training” treat as the benchmark for acceptable brain training; the transfer of skills from the training to other tasks. In this regard the Cassidy study provides more evidence that brain training can work to enhance essential intellectual skills, at least if it focuses on relational skills, or what RFT researchers call Arbitrarily Applicable Relational Responding.

A common criticism of brain training is that while it may improve some cognitive skills needed to complete the training, any benefits may have no practical relevance to daily life. In the current study, however, a sample of 30 14-15 year old children were tracked across several months of online training, 2-3 times per week for 30-45 minutes. Practice at relational skills, increased their numerical and verbal reasoning abilities, as measured by the DATs (administered and scored by independent third parties) by a significant degree. Together these numerical indices are used by educators to assess a child’s overall “educational aptitude”, which is the child’s ability to perform well in school across the board. By finding a significant increase in scholastic ability, the current study suggests that SMART relational skills training can make a real and measurable difference to the educability of a child.

While more evidence is always required when such promising results are reported by any new brain training method, the case is mounting that a relational frame theory approach to intellectual development may indeed have identified some basic building blocks of intelligence, once thought to be an unchangeable trait.

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Information Boosts Brain Health

Information boosts brain health as psychologists will testify that curiosity is good for the brain on a number of levels. Curiosity actually stimulates our intellectual functioning and benefits our brain health. Some experts in the field of psychology have also posited that a healthy dose of curiosity may be the key to leading a happier, more meaningful and fulfilled life.

The brain loves information and  scientists now know that our brain cannot malfunction due to “excessive curiosity”. Here are the reasons why.

1. Your brain is a work-horse.

The more you exercise it, the healthier and more efficient it will be. In fact, if you want to really train your brain and increase your intellectual ability, stoking your curiosity about the world is one of the best ways to achieve that.

2. Your brain is not a computer.

In the 70s, the cognitive branch of psychology was dominant and scientists saw all of human development in terms of a computer-based metaphor of a brain as information processor. The information processing approach (see Woolfolk, Hughes & Walkup, 2008) saw the mind as a machine that takes in information, performs operations to change its form and content, stores the information, retrieves it when needed, and generates responses to it. So learning, remembering and thinking involve gathering information, encoding, storage and retrieval. This is a useful analogy in many ways and it makes it easy for people to understand how information might be processed by the brain. The problem with it is that people then assume that the brain actually is a computer, with only as much memory storage or capacity as is available on the hard drive. If the hard drive doesn’t have enough capacity, then you need a new one that is bigger, better or faster.  This is a very limiting view of our brain’s capabilities and some have called it a form of “negative psychology”.

human-brain

3. We don’t know the limits of human learning.

We may never know them. Thankfully, many psychologists have eschewed the notion that our brain has limited storage capacity which is great news for the whole field of education as well as for the curious natured individual. A nice illustration of this can be seen in Psychologist Steve Hayes’ (1993) discussion of Lerner’s (1993) epigenetic approach to human development. Lerner argued that there may exist predetermined genetic limits to human development. But Hayes explained that because we know that stimulating environments can help to make us smarter, there are no limits to our intellectual development until they have been reached. These limits can only be reached through exhaustive attempts to create ever more exceptionally stimulating environments.

In Hayes’ (1993) words; “Lerner seems too quick to say how high pygmies can grow or how well a person with Down syndrome can do. There presumably are such limits, but we cannot know them when we have reached them”.

4. Scientists have learned a lot by being curious.

We used to think that persons with Down Syndrome would never present with measured IQ scores of more than 60, but now many persons with this genetic condition have received excellent intervention and high standards of teaching in enriched environments and are now capable of attending college. Thirty years ago the only outcome for persons presenting with Down Syndrome when, for example, their families could no longer care for them was to be institutionalised in a state care facility. Now many are living completely independently while others enjoy various levels of assisted or partially independent living and working environments. This only happened because the so called “limits” were pushed by psychologist that did not believe that curiosity can kill a cat.

In order to develop the range of powerful educational methods that have enriched the lives of those with Down syndrome, scientists themselves needed to be curious about what might happen if you continually enriched the educational environment of someone with a developmental difficulty. Isn’t this the way all great scientific breakthroughs occur? In the latter example, the curiosity of psychologists about the intellectual “limits” of someone with Down Syndrome actually improved people’s lives. Thankfully those psychologists had not believed the old feline cliché when they were young.

5. Neurogenesis.

Neurogenesis is the stimulation of brain growth. It is the process by which neurons are generated from neural stem cells and progenitor cells. Most of this neural activity happens during pre-natal development, but we also know that it continues to happen throughout the lifespan. It is now a well-established phenomenon and we often hear about it in the context of brain training software used for older adults who may be experiencing some level of cognitive decline or for anyone who simply wants to increase their IQ. Indeed there is much evidence supporting the efficacy of brain training interventions in studies examining its effects on stroke recovery and management of dementia in the elderly (e.g., Smith et al., 2009).  Some of the intellectual skills improved by such training are very important foundational skills like memory and attention that had perhaps been quite well developed at an earlier time in the person’s life (see also Ball et al. 2002). The important point here is that the stimulation of specific brain regions through brain training supports ongoing growth and development in areas of the brain which are important for intellectual pursuits.

6. Brain Training has been shown to improve intelligence.

In a groundbreaking 2011 study conducted at the University of Michigan, and widely reported in the media, Susan Jaeggi, John Jonides and colleagues reported improvements in one aspect of intelligence known as fluid intelligence that the researchers achieved for their research volunteers by having them engage regularly in a brain training task known as the n-back procedure. Another research study conducted in Ireland (Cassidy, Roche & Hayes, 2011) reported significant IQ rises as a result of an intensive computerized “relational skills” brain training program. These large IQ increases were maintained 4 years later without any further intervention (see Roche, Cassidy & Stewart, 2013). Both of these studies moved people’s intellectual ability well beyond its assumed limits- without any disastrous consequences for anyone!  (For more research in this area visit this brain training science). So it appears that there may indeed be no real limit to our ability to develop our minds. This kind of research pushes the boundaries of what many experimental psychologists and brain scientists thought were the limits of learning.

7. Curiosity can help us to lead more fulfilling lives.

Our brain is naturally curious and as I have argued, it cannot fill up because it is infinitely “malleable” or “plastic”, like play dough. Learning never stops, and we continue to learn and develop across the whole lifespan. One of the key ingredients to keeping that development on an upward trajectory is to nurture your native curiosity. The Psychologist Todd Kashdan wrote a whole book on the topic called The Curiosity Advantage, in which he presents the evidence that our brains are infinitely expandable, and that curious people lead more fulfilling lives. Kashdan is not talking merely about healthy cognitive development, but extols the virtues of curiosity for our mental health and our emotional well-being, too. And here is an important paradox he outlined. Too many of us have been sold on the idea that enjoying ourselves and being happy is the only, or most important, goal in life. But, instead of chasing happiness, Kashdan outlines the evidence that we should focus on trying to create a rich and meaningful life, guided by core values and interests. We can do this by chasing up the things that make us curious in every area of life.

According to Kashdan, “The greatest advantage of curiosity is that by spending time with the new, increased neurological connections are made possible. Facts and experiences are synthesised into a web, paving the way for greater intelligence and wisdom. We become more efficient when making future decisions. We become better at visualising the relativity of seemingly disparate ideas, paving the way for greater creativity.  It is the neurological equivalent of personal growth. New pathways in the brain are inevitable when you seek out new information and experiences and integrate them into the previously known.”  (p. 57).

8. Being curious increases our “flow”.

Kashdan’s ideas fit perfectly with what neuroscientists have been telling us about keeping our environments “stimulating”.  But Kashdan adds the important advice that by being fully engaged with life, we also derive more happiness from it – as a pleasant by-product. Positive psychologists call this state of total immersion in whatever fulfils you “flow”. The concept of flow was the brainchild of Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, (1990) who used it to refer to a genuinely satisfying state of consciousness, which is the optimal human experience. You are in a state of “flow” when you are so deeply and effortlessly involved in what you are doing that you forget all else. Flow activities challenge you and engage you with all your senses and all your being. Flow activities are not necessarily enjoyable when you are doing them (e.g., competing in a swimming competition or staying up all night studying) because they really and truly push you to your limits, but the sense of accomplishment you gain from doing them is what leads to you feeling so happy and so positive about the experience in the aftermath.

So being curious is about being engaged with your environment in a deep and meaningful way. It is about chasing the things that interest and stimulate us. It is about doing these things to the best of our abilities. Being curious is not about being nosy or getting involved in other people’s business. Being curious is about increasing our quality of life in all domains. Being curious is a good thing. In fact, it is a great thing.

Doctor Sarah Cassidy

Dr. Sarah Cassidy is an educational psychologist, behaviour therapist and mother of three. She provides assessment/treatment for children with learning and emotional/behavioural difficulties in school systems and in private practice. She lectures in educational psychology, child development and early childhood education at National University of Ireland. She is a professional member of the American Psychological Association, the National Educational Psychological Service and founder /Chief Education Officer at RaiseYourIQ.

Every Kid Needs Access To Brain Training

Every kid needs access to brain training because schools are not equipped to help students reach their full intellectual potential. As much parents may like to believe it, schools are not perfect places in which to educate a child. While schools do their utmost within constraints to impart the knowledge and skills a child needs to function in the world as an adult, they simply cannot provide the one-to-one attention that a child needs to reach their full intellectual potential. Even if a parent is fortunate enough to afford private schooling of the highest standard, or private tutoring from leading scholars, this still cannot maximize intellectual development for a surprisingly simple reason: those experts don’t know what to teach to make that happen.

While an expensive tutoring company will boast about improvements in school grades, they achieve this only by “teaching to the examination”, whatever that may be; SATs, a University entrance exam, or whatever. In other words, intensive education usually focuses on knowledge content and some basic skills tested directly in examinations. None of this will enhance a child’s overall intellectual ability much. That approach simply does not provide practice at skills basic enough that learning itself becomes easier. And the reason that most education leaves the child knowing more, but not any smarter, is because until now educational psychologists and neuroscientists did not fully understand what skills precisely underlie “being smart”.

The Good News for Every Child Psychology research in a field known as Relational Frame Theory has identified what are known as “relational skills” as the building block skills that underlie intelligence. The good news is that relational skills can be taught to any child through a form of “brain training”, and dozens of published research studies have now shown this, and argue that this is the kind of training every child needs to really maximize their potential in school and in life.

Relational skills brain training teaches a range of crucial relational skills that help to sharpen intellectual ability. When these skills are improved, the research suggests, all intellectual tasks come easier. Relational skills training make you a faster and better learner. It helps new information make more sense, and helps you think more clearly.

Because the school system does not directly teach relational skills, a child can quickly fall behind as they rote learn what is required to do well in school, but without the intellectual skill foundation to make that information meaningful and easy to remember. As a result, they can fall further and further behind over the years, as the effects of their poorly developed basic intellectual skills increase with the increasing demands of education. However, the identification of relational skills as the basic building blocks of intelligence, offers the possibility of re-mediating these deficits in a very efficient way so that educational efforts will be more effective and so that even disadvantaged children can reach their educational potential.

What Does Relational Skills Training Involve and Where can I get it? Currently, relational skills brain training, which is a form of brain training, is only available online at http://www.raiseyouriq.com. It can be taken by children or adults, and simply requires completing a series of game-like tasks, for a few short sessions each week, for several weeks. The training involves teaching the user how to answer blocks of logical questions, first with feedback, and then on their own without any help. The user is taught by the software how to solve these short logical problems, and is gently guided through increasingly difficult tasks that become increasingly easy for the user to solve.

The method employed at RaiseYourIQ.com was developed by behavioral psychologists over a decade of laboratory research, and is called SMART (which stands for Strengthening Mental Abilities with Relational Training). SMART teaches the user how to learn and how to think more clearly and logically.

Published research shows that SMART training increases the IQ scores (i.e). the standard measure of our intelligence level) of users by at least 10, and up to around 30 points, which represents a highly significant increase in intellectual ability. It also appears that a high starting intelligence level does not reduce the effects of the training, with intelligent children, becoming even more intelligent. This is because there is no limit to how relationally skilled a user can become. SMART Brain Training For Kids allows infinite improvement because users are encouraged to regularly revise stages of training that they have already mastered, and this helps them become more accurate and faster in solving problems. Even after completion they can continue to train at their own convenience. Our child users typically attain at least a typical adult level of logical reasoning and ability following their training.

SMART brain training targets the foundational intellectual skills that underlie just about everything we do, but specifically the following activities rely heavily on relational skills.

• Using vocabulary
• Understanding word meaning
• Grasping basic and advanced logic
• Remembering information
• Using numbers for mathematics

You can learn more about relational skill brain training here, Brain Training Free where everyone is welcome to sign up for a free trial course.