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How to Increase IQ? Working Memory Training, Smart Drugs and tDCS Reviewed

Intelligence & IQ Defined

Our intelligence measured by valid IQ tests is our ability to grasp situations, reason, problem solve, and learn and act efficiently and effectively. David Wechsler – the creator of the most widely used IQ test, the WAIS – defined intelligence as:

“the global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally and to deal effectively with his environment.”

Intelligence is better conceived as being switched on and competent rather than being just ‘book smart’ or ‘good at math’. As Napoleon Hill put it: “Action is the real measure of intelligence”.

The value of IQ

A high IQ level is known to be correlated with many valuable things. Some that have been demonstrated in peer reviewed research are: achievement motivation, altruism, artistic ability, creativity, dietary preference, educational attainment, emotional sensitivity, health, sense of humor, income, breadth and depth of interests, leadership, longevity, linguistic abilities, memory, moral reasoning, motor skills, occupational status and success, and social skills. IQ is inversely associated with accident proneness, obedience, alcoholism, authoritarianism, crime, dogmatism, neurosis, impulsivity, racial prejudice, smoking and obesity.

The practical advantages of having a high IQ increases as our work/career environments become more changeable and complex – more novel, ambiguous, unpredictable, or multifaceted. A high IQ is key to strategic thinking in which planning, decision making and problem solving unfolds in the midst of complexity and uncertainty. IQ is thus of prime value for entrepreneurs who are strategizing and problem solving their way to success in far from stable environments.

“The more new situations you experience, the greater your ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances.  For a long-term employee, being laid off may come as a serious blow.  But for a long-term entrepreneur, losing a particular client is just par for the course.  The entrepreneur has learned  [how to]  make it easy to add new income streams, while the employee may have much lower intelligence in this area.  Similarly, people who interact socially with new people every day will develop much greater social intelligence than those who interact with the same people over and over.”

Steve Pavlina

IQ Increasing Technologies: A Review

IQ training is possible. This article reviews three of the most effective IQ-increasing interventions that have a firm scientific basis – a basis in experimental laboratories and the exacting standards of peer reviewed scientific journals. The methods described below are part of the accumulated understanding of the scientific community about what can increase IQ – not just temporarily but long-term. Cognitive-enhancing nutrition, exercise and meditation is not covered in this review, which focuses on the use of intervention technologies.

1. IQ Training Software

Far-reaching advances in cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience over the past decade have identified a close link between frontal lobe ‘working memory’ circuitry, and fronto-parietal problem solving and reasoning circuitry – core elements of IQ. Our working memory is used for holding information in mind (images, concepts, language, numbers) for brief periods while engaging in active, goal-focused thinking or comprehension, while screening out distracting information. Working memory has a limited capacity, and the bigger that capacity the more the cognitive ‘RAM’ power a person has for processing information – to make connections, generate alternatives, and grasp relationships. This brainpower lies at the core of being smart. If super brain Eddie Morra in Limitless changed one thing in his brain, it was his working memory circuitry!

IQ training software has now been developed for selectively targeting working memory circuitry, resulting in long term neuroplasticity changes increasing short term memory capacity, problem solving ability, self-control and overall IQ. This software is based on a training exercise called the n-back.

A review published this year on the effectiveness of n-back working memory training by an old grad school friend, Dr Jason Chein, concludes:

“core working memory training studies seem to produce far-reaching transfer effects, likely because they target domain-general mechanisms of working memory. The results of individual studies encourage optimism regarding the value of working memory training as a tool for general cognitive enhancement.”

(Quoted from: Does working memory training work?  Psychon Bull Rev 2011)

Withdual n-back training alone, the research is mixed as to whether an IQ gain automatically follows (although the other important cognitive benefits are not in question). A number of recent studies have challenged the Jaeggi study, showing that with certain populations (e.g. college students) n-back training does not result in an improved IQ – such as this one.

Scientifically credible IQ training products are found at IQ Mindwarei3′s ‘interference control‘ hones in on precisely what results in IQ gains in n-back training, based on this recent scientific research on the link between IQ and working memory (journal article).

For a review of the best n back training strategies click here.

2. Nootropics (‘Smart Drugs’)

The issue of using medication for cognitive enhancement is highly controversial, but the ethics of smart drugs is not discussed in this article. I’m simply presenting the facts.

Nootropics – also known as smart drugs, memory enhancers, cognitive enhancers and intelligence enhancers – are drugs, supplements, nutraceuticals (a product isolated or purified from foods) that are designed to improve cognitive functions such as memory, attention and intelligence. The use of nootropics for cognitive performance is widespread.

In January, the prestigious science journal Nature launched an informal survey into readers’ use of cognition-enhancing drugs, and found large-scale use (link).  One in five respondents said they had used drugs for non-medical reasons to stimulate their focus, concentration or memory.

In 2008, Nature ran a commentary on this topic: Towards responsible use of cognitive enhancing drugs by the healthy. This article is well worth the time it takes to read. The authors outline the evidence in favor of the effectiveness of “smart drugs” and I will quote at length from the section “Paths to Enhancement” which reviews the nootropics known to boost brain power:

Ritalin and Adderall

Many of the medications used to treat psychiatric and neurological conditions also improve the performance of the healthy. The drugs most commonly used for cognitive enhancement at present are stimulants, namely Ritalin (methyphenidate) and Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts), and are prescribed mainly for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Because of their effects on the catecholamine system, these drugs increase executive functions in patients and most healthy normal people, improving their abilities to focus their attention, manipulate information in working memory and flexibly control their responses…


A newer drug, Modafinil (Provigil), has also shown enhancement potential. Modafinil is approved for the treatment of fatigue caused by narcolepsy, sleep apnoea and shift-work sleep disorder. It is currently prescribed off label for a wide range of neuropsychiatric and other medical conditions involving fatigue as well as for healthy people who need to stay alert and awake when sleep deprived, such as physicians on night call. In addition, laboratory studies have shown that modafinil enhances aspects of executive function in rested healthy adults, particularly inhibitory control. Unlike Adderall and Ritalin, however, Modafinil prescriptions are not common, and the drug is consequently rare on the college black market. But anecdotal evidence and a readers’ survey both suggest that adults sometimes obtain modafinil from their physicians or online for enhancement purposes.


A modest degree of memory enhancement is possible with the ADHD medications just mentioned as well as with medications developed for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease such as Aricept (donepezil), which raise levels of acetylcholine in the brain. Several other compounds with different pharmacological actions are in early clinical trials, having shown positive effects on memory in healthy research subjects.

The authors focus at length on the potential risks and ethical concerns of using nootropic cognitive enhancers, but conclude:

Like all new technologies, cognitive enhancement can be used well or poorly. We should welcome new methods of improving our brain function. In a world in which human workspans and lifespans are increasing, cognitive enhancement tools — including the pharmacological — will be increasingly useful for improved quality of life and extended work productivity, as well as to stave off normal and pathological age related cognitive declines23. Safe and effective cognitive enhancers will benefit both the individual and society.

3. Cortical Stimulation

A number of studies in the last few years have shown very promising results from applying electrical current to the brain using a technology known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). tDCS is a noninvasive technique in which a weak current is applied to the brain constantly over time to excite or inhibit the activity of neurons.

In late 2010, a group of researchers from University College London and Oxford University published a study showing that tDCS applied to the parietal lobes enhanced a person’s mathematical ability selectively, without influencing other cognitive functions. The improvement was found to have persisted six months after the training, showing the IQ gain was long-lasting.

Earlier this year a study was published in Clinical Neurophysiology showing that tDCS of a the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) improves working memory functioning. The dlPFC is a region in the frontal lobes toward the top and side: hence dorso (top) and lateral (side). The researchers report that there was significant improvement in speed of performance following  tDCS on an n-back working memory task.

In another study published earlier this year, a team at Centre for the Mind at the University of Sydney demonstrated that tDCS can dramatically improve insight problem solving. Three times as many cortically stimulated individuals succeeded in solving puzzles needing creative insight. People find it difficult to think outside of the box because their problem solving ‘mind set’ becomes crystallized by past experience. By inhibiting the activity of the left temporal lobe, and stimulating activity in the right temporal lobe, this team changed the balance between the two hemispheres of the brain, leading to better release from mental sets and better creative insight. One of the team, Professor Snyder, believes brain boosting headgear could be widely used.

“The thinking cap of the future is not one that helps us to remember facts as the internet has solved that problem, but one that facilitates learning and unlearning mindsets. It’s all about being original.”

Professor Snyder

Some of the most recent work on tDCS was presented in September this year by Professor Prof Heidi Johansen-Berg and her colleagues at Oxford University. They found that just ten minutes of motor cortex brain stimulation increases the speed of learning motor skills. In their study a musical keyboard sequence was the learning task.

“While the stimulation didn’t improve the participant’s best performance, the speed at which they reached their best was significantly increased.”

Professor Johansen-Berg

The researchers envisage the technique could be used to help in the training of athletes and suggest that the same method could be applied to other parts of the brain (such as the frontal or parietal cortex) to improve educational learning simply by positioning the electrodes in different locations so the current is focused on the correct area.

The potential for self-experimentation is exciting. As this BBC report on cortical stimulation states:

“The relative simplicity, low price (around £2,000 per unit), and portability of the technology may mean that, following further research, a device could be designed to be automated for use at home.”

Research Summary

One of my research areas is IQ and methods for how to increase IQ and IQ training. In this article I have reviewed three technologies that have been shown to have a substantial IQ increasing effect by the exacting standards of peer reviewed scientific research. The most effective technologies directly target working memory – the general purpose RAM power of our brain. But technologies can be effectively applied in a targeted way to enhance more specialized aspects of cognitive function such as motor learning, numerical ability or insight problem solving.

Intelligence augmentation is a cultural enterprise that is gaining momentum, but the technologies reviewed above take us into largely unexplored territory. The risks have not been fully quantified. It is our privilege to be in an era of both imaginative brain science, and biohackers’ responsible self-experimentation, to forge ahead in mapping out this territory in the spirit of pioneers.

Please join me in this journey by subscribing to our blog’s RSS feeds (right panel) or my CogPsyLab cognitive intervention research group for updates on our research and beta testing.

The Bell Curve, Cognitive Elites, and Synergistic Strategy-Capacity Training

The Bell Curve & The ‘Cognitive Elite’


The Bell Curve was a seminal work on IQ and its impact in society, published in 1994 by psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein (now deceased) and libertarian political scientist Charles Murray. Its central argument is that human intelligence, measured by IQ tests, is  influenced substantially by both inherited and environmental factors, and IQ is better predictor of  financial income, job performance, and involvement in crime than are  parental socio-economic status or education level.

Another thesis of The Bell Curve is that that those with high intelligence, the “cognitive elite”, are becoming increasingly separated from those of average and below-average intelligence – and that this has important social implications.

IQ bell curve

This claim is supported by the facts. Here  is a ‘bell curve’ distribution of IQ scores in the general US population. It is called a bell curve because of its bell shape. It has a similar shape for all populations in which IQ has been measured.

This curve tells us that the average IQ score is 100, and about 95% of the population have an IQ score (measured by a valid IQ test) somewhere between 70 and 130. 68% have an IQ level between 85 and 115. Each 15 IQ point interval is called one standard deviation – so we can say that 95% of the population have an IQ between -2 and +2 standard deviations from 100. Mensa requires an IQ of 130 which puts you in the top 2% of the population.

Now look at this data on college students. First, going back to 1930 (translating back from standard deviations to IQ scores!) you can see that the average IQ of all college graduates was 111. The average IQ of Ivy League colleges was 120. That’s not that different.

But if we jump forward to 1990, just before The Bell Curve was written, you see a very different picture.

While the average IQ of all college graduates in the country has barely changed (from 111 to 113), the average IQ of Ivy League college graduates has shot up from 120 to 142. That’s a massive difference!

The mean of the elite 12 universities in the US rose to over 140. Refer to the bell curve above to see just how ‘off the curve’ that is.

That was back in 1990. Now the IQ level may be even greater, assuming it has not reached close to its natural limit – as we find in elite athletes.

Mainstream science on intelligence: The 1994 IQ manifesto by IQ Experts

The Bell Curve was controversial, and generated a lot of inaccurate and misleading public reports and discussion about IQ.  To counter these reports an IQ manifesto was issued in the Wall Street Journal in December 1994, signed by 52 professors specializing in intelligence and related fields, including around one third of the editorial board of the journal Intelligence.  This IQ manifesto – called ‘Mainstream Science on Intelligence’ represents the findings widely accepted in the expert community in 1994. We have come on since then in our understanding of IQ considerably but these points are still accepted and provide a good starting point for our current understanding.

WSJ – Mainstream Science on Intelligence

18 conclusions on intelligence and IQ scores

The following 18 conclusions are taken from Mainstream Science on Intelligence (1994):

  1. “Intelligence is a very general mental capability … it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings …”
  2. “Intelligence, so defined, can be measured, and intelligence tests measure it well. They are among the most accurate (in technical terms, reliable and valid) of all psychological tests and assessments.”
  3. “While there are different types of intelligence tests, they all measure the same intelligence.”
  4. “The spread of people along the IQ continuum … can be represented well by the … ‘normal curve’.”
  5. “Intelligence tests are not culturally biased”
  6. “The brain processes underlying intelligence are still little understood”
  7. “Members of all racial-ethnic groups can be found at every IQ level”
  8. “The bell curve for whites is centered roughly around IQ 100; the bell curve for American blacks roughly around 85; and those for different subgroups of Hispanics roughly midway between those for whites and blacks. The evidence is less definitive for exactly where above IQ 100 the bell curves for Jews and Asians are centered”
  9. “IQ is strongly related, probably more so than any other single measurable human trait, to many important educational, occupational, economic, and social outcomes … Whatever IQ tests measure, it is of great practical and social importance”
  10. “A high IQ is an advantage because virtually all activities require some reasoning and decision-making”
  11. “The practical advantages of having a higher IQ increase as life’s settings become more complex”
  12. “Differences in intelligence certainly are not the only factor affecting performance in education, training, and complex jobs … but intelligence is often the most important”
  13. “Certain personality traits, special talents, [etc] are important … in many jobs, but they have narrower (or unknown) applicability or ‘transferability’ across tasks and settings compared with general intelligence”
  14. “Heritability estimates range from 0.4 to 0.8 … indicating genetics plays a bigger role than environment in creating IQ differences”
  15. “Members of the same family also tend to differ substantially in intelligence”
  16. “That IQ may be highly heritable does not mean that it is not affected by the environment … IQs do gradually stabilize during childhood, however, and generally change little thereafter”
  17. “Although the environment is important in creating IQ differences, we do not know yet how to manipulate it”
  18. “Genetically caused differences are not necessarily irremediable”

How has expert opinion been revised since 1990? 

Heritability estimates show that between 20% and 60% of individual differences in IQ are due to environmental influences, including education, diet and training. Many IQ experts now – since research findings from around 2008 onwards – believe that working memory training methods such as the n-back (e.g. Jaeggi et al, 2008; Jausovec & Jausovec, 2012) can change IQ and create substantial IQ differences.  There is universal consensus that working memory training has widespread benefits for ‘executive functioning’ – critical to overall intelligence. This was not known back in 1990 (Point 17).

What is also becoming apparent is that IQ and problem-solving IQ training – such as you find in elite universities – strongly interact. A higher IQ may give you entry to an elite university, which in turn provides a training environment to develop cognitive skills and strategies, raising the student’s IQ even further. IQ levels on entering Harvard may be 10 or more points lower than IQ levels on leaving Harvard.

The opposite is the case for children who graduate from high school and end up in environments that do not stimulate their minds. Their IQ levels could – over a four year period – drop from high IQs of 115 or more to average levels.

Relevance to IQ Mindware brain training: strategy capacity training

IQ Mindware’s IQ increase  programs  simulate the positive ‘feedback’ cycle that  is found in elite colleges: learning problem solving strategies works synergistically with training raw cognitive capacity (upgraded n-back training) resulting in substantial IQ gains as proven by thousands who have taken pre- and post-IQ tests. We call this ‘strategy-capacity’ training.


This combination is a unique approach to brain training and one which we believe is uniquely effective. N-back training alone may not result in substantial IQ gains. There is some new research suggesting this is the case with some student populations – such as this one. Simply training on straight dual n-back exercises  may not achieve the desired result. And learning thinking skills alone may not either if one’s ‘raw’ processing power is limited. But the combination of both works synergistically. That is our concept, and the data supports it’s effectiveness.


desktop i3 slide

Click to learn more about working memory IQ increasing software

Deductive Reasoning: Syllogisms and IQ

In this article you will be given a tutorial on deductive reasoning and how to reason deductively.


“What is an argument? Well, first it is necessary to say what an argument is not. An argument is not what you witness on talk shows and talk radio. Media will often bombard us with opinions and heart-felt emotions but we are seldom presented with arguments. No matter how loudly you state your opinion, no matter how sincerely you believe in your opinion, an opinion is not an argument. So what is an argument? An argument is a conclusion that is supported by a premise or premises. It may be helpful to imagine a roof supported by columns. Without the columns (the supporting premises) the roof (the conclusion) cannot stand. Arguments, like buildings, can be constructed properly and improperly. Like buildings that are constructed poorly, arguments that are built improperly will fall apart easily.”


We recognize the conclusions within an argument by words such as: ‘therefore’, ‘hence’, ‘thus’, ‘proving that’, ‘implying’. We recognize the premises within an argument with words such as: ‘for’, ‘because’, ‘in so far as’, ‘as supported by’.

Syllogistic reasoning and IQ

A study in this month’s edition of Intelligence has demonstrated with a large Japanese twin sample  “a close association between syllogistic reasoning ability and general intelligence”. (Article reference here). Syllogistic reasoning is an important type of deductive reasoning, and deductive reasoning is a key fluid intelligence ability. Training deductive reasoning may be an effective method for helping increase IQ.

What is syllogistic reasoning and what is a syllogism?

Aristotle’s Syllogisms

This content builds on Glymour’s Thinking Things Through (Chapter 2) – an old colleague from Carnegie Mellon university.

Here is an example of a syllogism:

Syllogism 1

All humans are animals.
All animals are mortal.
Therefore, all humans are mortal.

A syllogism is a type of logical argument in which a pair of sentences serve as the premises and a third sentence serves as the conclusion. The example above is a valid syllogism. What makes it valid is that if the premises are true, then it follows necessarily that the conclusion is also true.

We can see how deductive arguments are valid by drawing circles. For Syllogism 1, let circle ‘H’ represent the set of all humans,  circle ‘A’ represent the set of all animals, and circle ‘M’ represent the set of all mortal things. The first premise says the set of all men is contained in the set of all mortal things – so we can put circle H inside circle A to represent what would be needed for the first premise to be true.


Adding the second premise we get:

You can see from the diagram that necessarily H is inside M – which is what the conclusion asserts.

What makes a syllogism valid is that in any way you represent the two premises as true, the conclusion is true as well.

Here is another syllogism that has two possible diagrams for the premises.

Syllogism 2

All humans are primates.
Some humans have tattoos.
Therefore, some things with tattoos are primates.

Let H = the set of humans, P = the set of primates, and T = the set of things with tattoos.

Two possibilities are:

You can see that every way of representing the first two premises of the syllogism as both true has T intersecting H and H contained in P. And you can see that some T must be contained in P, which is what the conclusion asserts.

Here is an example of a syllogism that is not valid, and we can see this even though all the premises and the conclusion are true:

Syllogism 3

All humans are primates.
Some primates are mortal.
Therefore, all humans are mortal.

To see why this is not valid, we can find a way of arranging the circles in a way that the premises are true but the conclusion is false.  The figure below represents a state of affairs that can be imagined in which all humans are primates, some primates are mortal, but all humans are immortal – the opposite of what the conclusion asserts.


In this invalid syllogism, the truth of the premises does not necessitate the truth of the conclusion.

The validity of a syllogism clearly does not imply that its premises are true or its conclusion is true. The validity of a syllogism doesn’t have anything to do with what the terms of the sentences mean. A valid syllogism could have true premises and a true conclusion or false premises and a true conclusion. But it cannot have true premises and a false conclusion! If the premises are true, the conclusion is necessarily true. This is what is meant by logical arguments being truth preserving.  (For this reason, if you can find an example where the premises are true and the conclusion is false, you can show that a syllogism is invalid – see below.)

Syllogism Exercises

By giving an example in which the premises are clearly true and the conclusion is clearly false, show that each of the following syllogistic forms is invalid:

Syllogism 4

No A are B
All B are C
Therefore: No A are C

Syllogism 5

No A are B
All B are C
Therefore: Some A are C

Syllogism 6No A are B
all B are C
Therefore: Not all A are C


For more exercises :

Aristotle’s Theory of the Syllogism

In Aristotle’s theory there are four expressions (called quantifiers) that are prefixed to a subject-predicate phrase (‘A is B’).  These are ‘all’, ‘no, ‘some’ and ‘not all’.

Stating that ‘not all A is B’ is logically equivalent to ‘Some A is not B’, so these 4 quantifiers can be represented as:

There are four ‘figures’ in syllogistic arguments. Note that the first premises have the terms A and B, all the second premises have the terms B and C, and all conclusions have the terms A and C.

There are 4 quantifiers that can attach to any of 3 sentences of each figure. Thus there are 4 x 4 x 4 = 64 distinct syllogistic forms for each figure. Since there are 4 figures there are 64 x 4 = 256 distinct forms of syllogistic arguments.  Only some of these are valid. Most are invalid.

Here is a valid one that Aristotle identified (using Figure 3):

Syllogism 7

All B are A
Not all B are C
Not all A are C

Syllogism Exercises

  1. By providing an example in which the premises are clearly true and the conclusion is clearly false, show that each of the following syllogistic forms is invalid.

No A are B                   No A are B                           No A are B
All B are C                    All B are C                            All B are C
————–                 —————–                    ——————
No A are C                   Some A are C                     Not all A are C

  1. Find two valid syllogisms for the 2nd figure.


Note: The following rules may also be helpful in trying to figure out if syllogistic arguments are valid or invalid:

Rule 1:  From ‘No X are Y’ infer ‘No Y are X’.
Rule 2:  From ‘All X are Y’ infer ‘Some X are Y’
Rule 3: From ‘Some X are Y’ infer ‘Some Y are X’

Syllogisms involving instances

Another logical principle is that from a universal claim one can infer an instance of it.


All men are mortal
Socrates is a man
Socrates is mortal


What is spiritual is immortal.
The human soul is spiritual.
The human soul is immortal


Whatever makes unions more democratic is good for unions
The open shop is something that makes unions more democratic
The open shop is good for unions.

Propositional Syllogisms

A proposition is a whole sentence that can be true or false.

Modus Ponens

If P then Q

(Sentences of the form ‘if…then…’ are called conditionals.)

Modus tollens

If P then Q
Not Q
Not P

Conditional Syllogisms (Chain Rule)

If P then Q
If Q then R
If P then R

Disjunctive Syllogism

P or Q
Not Q

Syllogism Exercises

Are these valid form of reasoning (try to find counter examples)?

If A is true, then B becomes more plausible.
B is plausible
Therefore, A becomes more plausible

If A is true then B is true
B is true
A is true