Smarter | Dan Hurley

Summary of: Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power
By: Dan Hurley


Curious about unlocking the secrets of the human brain to improve your intelligence? Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power by Dan Hurley delves into the fascinating world of fluid and crystallized intelligence, exploring groundbreaking research with potentially life-altering implications. The book discusses how our ability to think logically and solve problems, known as fluid intelligence, was once believed to be unchangeable. However, recent evidence suggests otherwise, opening up cutting-edge methods to measure and improve our cognitive skills, from engaging brain-training games to the benefits of certain forms of exercise and music lessons.

Understanding Intelligence

Intelligence can be categorized into two types: fluid and crystallized intelligence. Fluid intelligence refers to the ability to think logically and solve novel problems, while crystallized intelligence is the knowledge we accumulate throughout our lives. It was believed that fluid intelligence reached its peak in early adulthood, but new evidence suggests that it can be improved through training. However, measuring fluid intelligence is a significant challenge that needs to be addressed. Intelligence is closely linked to how our brains are structured, and improving our fluid intelligence may lead to better problem-solving skills.

The Science of Measuring Intelligence

Intelligence is a construct that can’t be directly observed, making measuring it challenging. IQ tests use latent variable analysis, but it’s an uncertain measurement. Brain scans using fMRI, which measures brain activity by showing blood flow, may help observe fluid intelligence in action. Studies show that 6.7 percent of fluid intelligence is determined by the amount of gray matter in the brain, and another 5 percent is reflected in the size of the left lateral prefrontal cortex, which is highly active during tests of working memory. Brain games aim to improve working memory, which is the way we manipulate what we’re asked to remember and is related to fluid intelligence.

Lumosity: Gaming to Improve Intelligence

Lumosity offers psychologist-designed cognitive tasks turned into fun games, like the N-Back game designed to target working memory. Susanne Jaeggi proved that N-back tasks can improve fluid intelligence test scores by 40% in four weeks. Gaming is not the only proven approach to improve cognitive ability, and the next part shows how to improve intelligence by getting your body moving.

Want to become smarter while playing a fun game like Angry Birds? Lumosity is here to make that a reality. Co-founded by Michael Scanlon in 2007 during his neuroscience doctorate at Stanford, Lumosity has grown to a massive 40 million members by April 2013. By turning psychologist-designed cognitive tasks into fun and engrossing computer games, Lumosity became a huge success.

The N-Back game is just one of their many games, designed to target your working memory. The game involves remembering items in a sequence that matches the sequence from several positions back. For example, an HJKJSHS sequence would require hitting the button on the italicized letters, matching another letter two places back in the sequence. The game grows more difficult as the task becomes 3-back, 4-back, and so on.

Many people initially doubted if a simple task like the N-Back game could really improve working memory, but psychologist Susanne Jaeggi proved them wrong in 2008. After only four weeks of N-Back tasks, participants’ scores on fluid intelligence tests increased by 40 percent. Similar training games have also improved the attention spans of children suffering from ADHD.

However, gaming is not the only proven approach to improving cognitive ability. The next part of the book summary discusses how physical exercise can also enhance intelligence.

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