How to Become Smarter

August 10, 2011 Katharina Lochner

effectiveness at learning

What’s the Matter With Intelligence?

Intelligence is mostly hereditary, at least the so called fluid intelligence, which is the ability to reason, to solve problems, to deal with new information. Most of us would like to be fairly intelligent because intelligence has been proven to be a good predictor of academic and work performance, even of longevity. But there is not much we can do about it. We can’t get any smarter. We just have to live with what we have. Right? Probably not.

Susanne Jaeggi and her colleagues Martin Buschkuehl, and John Jonides, all of them from the University of Michigan, and  fromWalter Perrig the University of Bern published a paper in 2008 in which they showed that training working memory significantly improved their participants’ performance on an IQ test. Working memory is the ability to actively hold information in one’s mind and is seen as the key determinant of intelligence. Improving working memory, in this study, lead to an improvement in intelligence.

The original article can be found in the journal PNAS.

In a recent study that is well described by Ed Yong on his blog “Not exactly rocketscience”, Jaeggi, Buschkuehl, Jonides, and Priti Shah tried to replicate their findings with children as participants. What they found was that the working memory training only worked when children were motivated. So according to this study, intelligence can be improved by training working memory, but only when the individuals trained are motivated.

The original article again can be found in the journal PNAS.

This again is in line with what researcher Angela L. Duckworth and her colleagues found: She found that the performance on intelligence tests is not as strong a predictor of people’s life outcomes such as job performance as widely assumed. When taking motivation into account, the predictive power of intelligence tests shrinks. However, the relationship is still there. So according to these researchers, life outcomes can be predicted by combining intelligence and motivation. This also reflects her study on self-disciplinedescribed in a previous post.

The original article is once more in the journal PNAS, and a description of the study can be found on “Not exactly rocket science”.

What does this all mean? It is likely that we can improve our ability to reason and solve problems, i.e. our fluid intelligence. All tasks improving working memory can be used. There are quite a few programmes on the internet. Just remember: Motivation is essential!

About the Author

Katharina Lochner

Dr Katharina Lochner is the former research director for the cut-e Group which was acquired by Aon in 2017. Katharina is now a researcher and lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences Europe in Iserlohn, Germany. In her role at cut-e, she applied the research in organizational and work psychology to real-world assessment practice. She has a strong expertise in the construction and evaluation of online psychometric tools.

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