Yes, you can get smarter. Dual n-back training has been shown to increase a person's intelligence quotient (IQ).
It does this by increasing the number of items that can be held in working memory, the bottleneck of learning. In a famous study by Jaeggi, et al., participants who completed 20 minutes of dual n-back training each day raised their fluid intelligence and IQ scores.
Now you can do the same. To begin, click the Medium link at left to open the dual n-back game in a pop-up window.
Note 1: This dual n-back game requires the free Microsoft Silverlight plug-in. If your browser does not have the plug-in, you can download it here at no charge.
Note 2: This game runs best in Firefox or Internet Explorer. Google Chrome no longer supports Silverlight, so it probably won't work in the latest version of Chrome. You can run the game in the Microsoft Edge browser in Windows 10 by clicking the "..." button in the upper right of the browser and selecting Open with Internet Explorer.
The game above is a replica of the software used in the Jaeggi research study. The visual/audio dual n-back tasks from the study are reproduced in this game.
Read below how you can train like the study participants did, and raise your IQ!
According to the Jaeggi study, dual n-back is the first brain exercise ever proven to transfer its benefits to general brain ability. Most brain games only train individual mental skills used in that game.
Dual n-back is different, because it raises your general level of intelligence. This is an exciting discovery with implications for education. I could easily imagine this sort of brain training becoming part of regular school curriculum sometime in the future.
HOW TO PLAY. This dual n-back training game comes with a short, built-in tutorial. To watch the tutorial, click the green Demo button in the lower right corner of the game. Below I explain how to play it also.
The object of dual n-back training is to increase the number of items you can hold in mind at one time, known as your "working memory". This number varies naturally from person to person, the limit being about seven or eight items. It should make sense that the more information you can hold in short-term memory, the more complex the problems you can solve (and thus the smarter you are).
The actual n-back level from your last session is not important for predicting gain in IQ. Rather, it is working at your capacity limit that strengthens intelligence.
This dual n-back training game strengthens your working memory by forcing you to remember a sequence of n-back items that increases in length as the game gets harder. The better you get at the game, the further back in the sequence you must remember. The "dual" (meaning twice) portion of dual n-back refers to the fact that you must recall a sequence of sounds and a sequence of images at the same time.
To achieve results similar to the Jaeggi study, you need to complete 20 dual n-back sessions every day. Each session takes about a minute, and there is a session counter in the upper left to track your progress. The game also awards you a score. You might want to write this score down each day, in case you want to analyze how you've improved over time.
When you are ready to train, set both hands on your keyboard, with one finger of the right hand over the "L" key and one finger of the left hand over the "A" key. Click the Start button in the upper right to start the first session.
The game begins with dual 2-back, which means you need to remember the current sound/image as well as the previous two sound/images. The sounds and images flash on the screen for about a half-second each.
When the current image matches what is in your memory for the n-back level you are on, press the "A" key on your keyboard. When the current sound matches what is in your memory, press the "L" key on your keyboard.
EXAMPLE. Suppose you are working on dual 2-back, and the first two image/sound combinations are Upper Right/Letter Q, then Lower Center/Letter F. The next pair is then Left Center/Letter Q.
Since the current sound (Letter Q) matches the sound from two back, you need to press the "L" key. But the current image location (Left Center) does not match the location from two back (Upper Right), so you would not press the "A" key.
As your brain becomes more powerful, this game adapts to make the dual n-back training more difficult. When dual 2-back becomes too easy, the next session starts with dual 3-back automatically. Once you've mastered dual 3-back, you'll start seeing dual 4-back, and so on. I've made it to dual 4-back so far, which for me is very, very difficult.
Dual n-back training is incredibly challenging. You probably won't consider this a "fun" game, at least not at first. It really strains your brain!
As mentioned above, dual n-back training increases the number of items that can be held in working memory. Working memory (sometimes referred to as short-term memory) is the ability to hold multiple pieces of information in mind as you solve a problem. But how does increasing working memory increase IQ?
It could be that both working memory and intelligence share a common constraint. Widening the bottleneck of working memory therefore enhances intellectual ability at the same time.
As Jaeggi, et al. explain, "The reason for a common capacity limitation is assumed to lie in the common demand for attention when temporary binding processes are taking place to form representations in reasoning tasks." (I admit that I'm not 100% sure what that means. )
Another mechanism could be related to the fact that neuronal circuits in the brain responsible for reasoning and problem-solving exist in the same general location as the working memory circuits (the pre-frontal cortex and temporal cortex). By virtue of overlapping location, training the working memory circuits may simultaneously strengthen the circuits for general intelligence.
If you'd like to read the original study, check out their published research paper. It's fascinating, though some parts are a bit technical. In case you were wondering, their results have been reproduced in other, subsequent studies.
If you really want to increase your IQ, it is essential to complete the minimum 20 minutes of dual n-back training per day. The Jaeggi study's authors emphasized that the more days in a row the participants trained, the more powerful their working memory became and the higher their IQ's were during follow-up IQ testing. Skipping days or playing infrequently will sabotage and limit your progress.
There are a number of powerful brain games on this site. But you should make an extra effort to include dual n-back training in your daily brain training regimen. Of all brain games, dual n-back is the most supported by research and the only game proven to have the general transfer effect to general intelligence.
Last Updated: 06/11/2020
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