Brain researchers for the first time claim to have found a method for improving the general problem-solving ability scientists call fluid intelligence, otherwise known as “smarts.”
Fluid intelligence was previously thought to be genetically hard-wired, but the finding suggests that with about 25 minutes of rigorous mental training a day, healthy adults could improve their mental capacities.
The method, if commercialized, could be a boon to the growing, multimillion-dollar market for “brain fitness” software like Nintendo’s Brain Age.
“The most important point of our work is that we can show that it is possible to improve fluid intelligence,” said Martin Buschkuehl, a psychology researcher based at the University of Bern, Switzerland. “It was assumed that fluid intelligence was immutable.”
Fluid intelligence measures how people adapt to new situations and solve problems they’ve never seen before. Fluid intelligence differs from crystallized intelligence, which takes into account skills and knowledge that have been acquired — like vocabulary, grammar and math.
It’s not hard, for example, for students to improve their IQ scores by taking lots of IQ tests.
Trouble is, learning how to take IQ tests doesn’t improve the underlying smarts. The students just get better at taking tests. In practical terms, people can get better at taking tests, but in daily life, don’t have a blazingly quick new brain.