The Pareto principle (AKA the 80–20 rule) states that, for many processes, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Applying this principle to brain training, it is likely that 80% of cognitive benefits come from 20% of the apps on the market. There are thousands of brain training apps and games on the market, and some multi-billion dollar brain training providers. The key problem is how to filter through them and commit to training with those that work.
Brain training only works if it meets certain conditions
According to the authoritative consumer research group Sharpbrains, brain training only works when it results in transfer to real benefits in daily life.
“The most critical factor in determining whether a brain training method or program works is the extent to which the training effects “transfer” to benefits in daily life.”
Most brain training apps only develop skills in the game itself, without transferring beyond the game to general cognitive benefits such as IQ, emotional regulation or decision-making. Transfer only works when it meets 5 conditions (the quotes are from this article):
- 1. Core brain training. To ensure broad cognitive transfer, the training must “exercise a core brain-based capacity or neural circuit identified to be relevant to real-life outcomes, such as executive attention, working memory, speed of processing and emotional regulation”. Core brain capacities are the basis of wide-ranging cognitive health and performance outcomes in real life.
- 2. It must target a performance bottleneck. The brain’s core neural circuits include working memory, IQ, emotion regulation, processing speed and decision making. Different brain training apps train different core functions. You need to identify which of these is your ‘cognitive bottleneck’ and choose an app that targets that bottleneck.
- 3. A minimum “dose” of 15 hours total, performed over 8 weeks or less, is necessary for real improvement. “Training only a few hours across a wide variety of brain functions…should not be expected to trigger real-world benefits, in the same way that going to the gym a couple times per month and doing an assortment of undirected exercises cannot be expected to result in increased muscle strength and physical fitness.”
- 4. Training must adapt to performance and increase in difficulty. Like good games, training should be motivating, becoming more challenging as you improve with practice, absorbing your full attention.
- 5. Continued practice is required for continued benefits. “While the minimum dose described above may act as a threshold to start seeing some benefits, continued practice, either at a reduced number of hours or as a periodic “booster,” is a final condition for transfer to real-world benefits over time.”
When you commit to any brain training, ask yourself whether these conditions are being met. For many brain training providers, it is clear that these conditions are not met.
IQ Mindware apps are designed around these 5 conditions
IQ Prime and EQPro are specifically built around these training conditions, ensuring transfer to real world cognitive benefits. This is simply not the case with most popular brain training apps on the market as you will know if you have had experience with any of these. IQ Mindware apps target core processes and strategies needed for problem-solving, reasoning, processing complex information, decision making, and emotional regulation.
1. Core Working Memory Training
All IQ Mindware apps train working memory. Working memory is a core neural circuit underlying multiple brain functions. Here is a BrainScanr graph showing just how central working memory is to attention, learning, memory and executive functioning – all of which underlie intelligence (IQ) (BrainScanr depicts relationships between neuroscience terms in peer reviewed publications – you can try different terms for yourself.)
IQ Mindware apps expand working memory capacity. Working memory can be understood as our ‘mental workspace’. The larger your mental workspace, the more you can process for comprehension, problem solving, reasoning, planning & decision-making. Working memory training can also help improve attention-related disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia & ASD.
Multiple peer-reviewed studies have confirmed the effective transfer of core working memory training for a wide range of cognitive functions.
2. IQ & EQ ‘Core Circuit’ Bottlenecks
IQ Mindware apps train core brain circuit bottlenecks for IQ and EQ.
IQ Mindware apps are second generation (2G) developments of the most well-established working memory training game: the dual n-back that was introduced to the public in 2008. Dual n-back benefits for IQ were brought into the spotlight by Dr. Susanne Jaeggi and her group at the University of Michigan in a seminal PNAS paper in 2008: Improving Fluid Intelligence By Training On Working Memory. Their results led prominent IQ researchers to the conclusion:
“Increasing intelligence is possible after all …with more training leading to greater gains …across the spectrum of abilities. …Almost 40 years ago, Jensen claimed that, when all is said and done, there is not much one can do to raise people’s IQs. Jaeggi and her colleagues have made an important contribution… by showing that intelligence is trainable to a significant and meaningful degree.” Robert Sternberg, Professor of Cognitive Psychology
Fronto-Parietal Core Circuit for IQ
IQ Prime is designed to train IQ (as measured on IQ tests) and general problem solving ability, but both target the core fronto-parietal circuit that underlies both IQ and working memory. This is also known as the cognitive control network and is involved in a wide range of wide range of cognitive functions including general intelligence. The fronto-parietal circuit is shown in this brain scan.
EQPro is an emotional dual n-back game, building on the seminal work of the Cambridge MRC group on brain training for emotional regulation/control (EQ). Emotional dual n-back training has the same effects as standard dual n-back training but in addition, it has benefits relating to emotion regulation and what is known as affective (e.g. emotion-based) cognitive control. With emotional dual n-back training there is good evidence for transfer gains to IQ over 20 days, just like with standard n-back training. But the emotional dual n-back training had additional benefits. There was evidence for:
- 1. Improved cognitive control. This is the ability to ignore distracting emotional content, and harness useful emotional content. This benefit did not result from standard n-back training.
- 2. Improved cognition for depression and anxiety disorders.
EQPro training can help with emotional regulation, and improve decision making and learning under emotional stress (EQ) – as well improve working memory and IQ. It can also reduce the impact of anxiety, depression and mood disorders on cognition.
Cortico-Limbic Core Circuit for EQ
- EQPro trains the same frontoparietal brain circuit as working memory training.
- EQPro training also results in successful down-regulation of emotional distress via its inhibitory effect on the amygdala – which underlies emotional reactivity. This is part of the limbic system.
The core brain circuitry for emotion regulation is shown in this diagram. EQPro target this circuitry, resulting in long-term neuroplasticity change.
3. 10-15 Hours Basic Training
All IQ Mindware apps involve at least 20-30 minutes brain training a day over 20 daily Sessions spread out over 4-6 weeks. The training can be done all in one session or divided between morning and evening sessions. This is the basic training program and is required for the IQ gains guarantee. We find that in fact 10 hours is the minimum training required for transfer effects and long-term brain function gains – but many IQ Mindware users train for 15 hours or more.
This condition for effective brain training requires a serious commitment. Without this kind of time commitment, brain training is little more than an exercise in vanity – or at best, like playing computer games or game apps on your mobile. Serious brain training is like going to the gym – it requires work over several weeks to lose weight and get ripped. But the long term benefits make it well worth the investment.
4. Adaptive Brain Training
All IQ Mindware apps utilize the adaptive training principle. This means that as you improve with practice, the game tracks your progress and increases the difficulty level. If you have an off-day, the game will adapt to this, and ensure the training is easier. This ensures that your training is always in ‘the zone’ – always challenging, absorbing your full attention, neither too easy nor too difficult.
5. Long term Neuroplasticity Change & Continued Practice
Your foundational 20 sessions of training results in long term neuroplasticity change in either your fronto-parietal working memory circuit, or your cortico-limbic emotional regulation circuit – depending on the app you train with. Your baseline IQ or EQ level will have changed.
There is evidence that the IQ gains can last six months after training, without any continued training. But just like when you build core strength at a gym over a more intensive month of training, to maintain the strength gains, you will need to either continue training at a lower intensity, or have a periodic “booster,” – say every 3-4 months. This is the final condition for transfer to permanent brain training benefits in real life.
Supporting brain training strategies
SharpBrains should have added another condition to successful brain training.
Brain training also benefits synergistically from supporting strategies to improve brain health and performance. These include nootropics & nutrition, tDCS, neurofeedback, meditation, aerobic exercise, good sleep, & stress management.
IQ Mindware tracks the latest research in these areas in its blog, and provides information on how to train with multiple strategies to improve overall brain health and performance.
When you commit to a brain training provider, ask yourself ‘Are the 5 conditions of effective brain training met with this training?’ Most of the ‘brain training’ on the market is an exercise in vanity without effectiveness.
An authoritative study published in the scientific journal Nature has recently shown that the more popular brain training apps such as Lumosity do not improve general cognitive ability. Skills on the specific exercises improve with practice, but these exercises do not result in general improvements in brain function. The study concluded:
There were absolutely no transfer effects…I think the expectation that practising a broad range of cognitive tasks to get yourself smarter is completely unsupported. Adrien Owen, Ph.D
IQ Mindware apps focus on core brain training – not multiple exercises that just scratch the surface. They are designed according to the 5 conditions of effective brain training for wide transfer into real life, where cognitive, information processing, and learning demands are high.