Exercising Working Memory May Improve Ability to Solve New Problems

Fluid intelligence, the ability to solve new problems, is a mental ability often impaired in people with ADHD. New research suggests that it can be improved through working memory training.

Tuesday April 29th - 11:39am

Dr. Susanne Jaeggi and her colleagues at the University of Michigan and the University of Bern in Switzerland have recently completed a study on the effects of improving working memory on fluid intelligence.

Fluid intelligence is the capacity "to reason and to solve new problems" without previous knowledge of or training in those types of problems. This important part of learning and success in school is often hindered by the inattention that accompanies ADHD.

It has been generally accepted that, although people can achieve better scores on tests of fluid intelligence with practice, their fluid intelligence does not actually improve. Further evidence has indicated that training in many cognitive tasks will improve those specific tasks, but that those better performances do not usually transfer to other areas.

In their research, Dr. Jaeggi and her colleagues have suggested that working memory training defies this evidence. They found that adults trained in a complex working memory task made significant gains in tests of fluid memory when compared to others who did not receive such training.

They also found that the more training a person had, the better. The participants in the study did training exercises for a half-hour each day for 8, 12, 17, or 19 days. Those participants who had 19 days of training performed best on the fluid intelligence test.

The researchers concluded that it was possible to improve fluid intelligence and suggested that the working memory training accomplished this by teaching participants to ignore unrelated information, keep track of performance, manage multiple tasks at once, and connect related items to each other.

Although the researchers were unable to tell how long the improvements they found would last, or if more training would produce even better test results, their study provides encouraging evidence for the ability to improve problem-solving skills.

This study was published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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