Cognitive enhancement through software?

My mind isn’t what it used to be. I’ve never felt the tickle of genius but in my thirties I do find my attention lacks what it used to, as does my ability to learn new things, and retain that information.

In fact, my short term memory is occasionally so unreliable that I sometimes chant my intention when moving from one room to the next … “Finding my shoes, where are my shoes, where are my shoes..?”.  This tragic behaviour assures I don’t find myself standing in another room, blinking, and looking for cues as to why I am there.

Don’t worry – I don’t think I have an early onset, degenerative brain disorder, I think my lifestyle and attraction to what could easily be called “pottering” hasn’t helped me keep my brain exercised.

Inspired by the simple idea of trying something new for 30 days I’m embarking on a regime of brain training.

This 2008 article in Wired describes a study carried that found a particular memory task called Dual N-back may actually improve working memory (short term memory) and fluid intelligence. There is an open source version of this software for PC, Linux and Mac at Sourceforge.

It’s a pleasingly tricky exercise, whereby coloured squares appear on a tic tac toe grid accompanied by audio of a letter from the alphabet. The lowest level requires me to remember the last known (1-back) position and letter and should one, or both of those parameters be repeated I press a key to register a ‘match’. In this way, it’s not dissimilar to the old card game of memory.

As this becomes easier for me, the level increases such that I have to signal a match to the second previous position/sound (2-back). These levels increase as one passes repeatably a certain percentage of success at  the current level. The Sourceforge page reports knowing of a person reaching the level of 11-back!

The question as ever is will this kind of training make  better at this kind of training or will I in fact start finding my shoes. Intelligence and cognition is a bugger to measure, so I’d be happy for any subjective improvement.

The Dual N-back page states a training schedule of 4-5 days per week seems to be the most efficient, and thats for about 20 rounds or roughly 25 minutes.

Here’s a massive N-Back FAQ which includes experiences and opinions of the Brain Training google group.

If anyone else wants to play, let me know in the comments and we can swap results.

1 thought on “Cognitive enhancement through software?”

  1. Lucy, I used to play Brain Age on Nintendo DS(i) pretty religiously, but haven’t in a while … overtime, I did find it helping my reaction and recall … hope you find the same … 🙂 There’s a bunch of clone software out now (both on desktop & mobile). I’ll have to give a go to the one you posted. Thanks for posting, & good luck with your experiment. I’d love to share metrics if you are game.

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