An “N-back test” requires players to remember the location of a symbol presented just before (1-back), the time before last (2-back), the time before that (3-back) and so on. Researchers tested groups of children and adults who played different types of N-back test games. The studies suggest that playing games like this may actually make us smarter.
Results of the studies showed that at Level 2, adults find the task somewhat difficult. Almost no one gets past Level 3 without training. While practice improves performance on almost any task, those who improved in this game also showed improvement in “fluid” intelligence. Fluid intelligence is the ability to solve unusual problems, to learn, to reason, to see connections and to understand how things work. The implication was that playing the game literally makes people smarter.
Psychologists believe that there are two types of intelligence: crystallized intelligence, the ability to store and use information, and fluid intelligence. Crystallized intelligence grows as you age; fluid intelligence stops growing around college age, and then declines gradually. Psychologists believe that Fluid intelligence cannot be improved by training. That is why they believe that they can predict a person’s future based on an I.Q. test. Even Tiger Moms expect their children’s hard work to only produce higher grades, not better brains.
The N-back game uses the most basic of thinking skills: “working” memory. Working memory is more than just the ability to remember a telephone number long enough to dial it; it’s the ability to use the information you’re holding in your head — to add or subtract numbers, put them in reverse order or sort them from high to low. Understanding a metaphor or an analogy depends on working memory. You can’t follow even a simple statement like “See Jane run” if you can’t put together how “see” and “Jane” connect with “run.” Without working memory, you can’t make sense of anything.
In 2008, one psychologist decided to use N-back games to try to increase working memory. The result was that in about 15 to 20 minutes of practice per day, 5 days per week, test subjects were able to improve their working memory. N-back game training appears to work on all ages and intelligence levels. Some high-level professionals have begun training their working memory in hopes of increasing their fluid intelligence and their job performance.