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Science

You Can't Get Smarter, But You Can Slow How Fast You Get Dumber (nytimes.com) 82

An anonymous reader writes: An article at the NY Times summarizes the state of research on cognitive improvement. There are multiple industries — from big pharma to the makers of "brain-training" games — trying to convince you there are ways to become more intelligent. Unfortunately, scientific research doesn't really bear that out. There is, however, evidence you can provide short-term boosts, slow aging-related cognitive decline, and trick yourself into achieving better outcomes. Experiments show that simply telling a group of low-performing students that intelligence is malleable led to higher test scores. Researchers also found a use for mental exercises, but only in adults over the age of 60, a time at which some level of cognitive decline is common. Physical exercise seems to help fight that cognitive shrinkage as well. Oddly, different exercises fight it in different ways. As for drugs, there is some evidence that stimulants help with long-term memory, but that's about it. That's not to say they have no effect, just that their effect is more to make you feel smarter instead of actually being smarter. The article does point out one of the best ways to combat cognitive decline: maintain social engagement as you get older. "[P]eople with the highest level of social integration had less than half the decline in their cognitive function of the least socially active subjects."
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You Can't Get Smarter, But You Can Slow How Fast You Get Dumber

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  • by GoodNewsJimDotCom ( 2244874 ) on Saturday October 24, 2015 @03:56PM (#50794315)
    People with dimensia normally dont have a lot of social interactions precisely because they are hard to communicate with. Does social interactions actually help, or do people not want to be around people who's faculties are going?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      First sign of dementia - not being able to spell dementia.

    • Old people just grow lonesome
      Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello."

      (John Prine)

    • Social interactions help, yes. Adjust the four factors, roughly stated as physical environment, physical health, personal life, and other people. Consider it as a physical disabilty, after all the brain is damaged (protein build-up, strokes) and apply a physical model of disability. Communication is a two-way thing, and the attitude of other person is a major part of the problem. The view of the world of a person with dementia is just as valid as anyone else's. What we need to fix is people's attitude
    • People with dimensia normally dont have a lot of social interactions precisely because they are hard to communicate with. Does social interactions actually help, or do people not want to be around people who's faculties are going?

      "Dimensia"? Is that someone who was hit over the head with a 2 x 4?

    • How does this get insightful? My mother has Dementia. She was a normal, social person, and still has a strong network of family and friends, but old age is an unstoppable force.
      So no, Dementia has nothing to do with being a social retard (otherwise most IT people would already have it right?)
      • Agreed, my mom was, well, high-performing in many things most of her life as was her mother before her. Both of them had dementia late in their life and it was so similar that I can guess where my sister at least is headed. She is also an insanely high-performing person and as she ages she can't help but search for the writing on the wall. While I am just five years older... my sister has to worry about dementia a lot too, did I tell you about my mother? She.....

        Yeah, it is reaslly frustrating to try to sta

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 24, 2015 @04:11PM (#50794367)

    Study up on a new subject. Learn the material. Practice to acquire the skill. *poof* you are more intelligent.

    The statement might have been about the intelligence quotient, which (according to the theory) does not change over time. But it is also not a measure of intelligence. Nor was it ever intended to be. It is a measurement of intelligence potential.

    A person with a very high IQ but no education or opportunity can spend his entire life wallowing in ignorance (and probably poverty). A person with a boring average IQ who applies himself can master many difficult subjects and skills, and accomplish great things by doing so.

    Don't get too hung up on definitions of "intelligence," as they are numerous and vague.
     

    • by U2xhc2hkb3QgU3Vja3M ( 4212163 ) on Saturday October 24, 2015 @04:37PM (#50794471)

      Study up on a new subject. Learn the material. Practice to acquire the skill. *poof* you are more intelligent.

      No you aren't. Intelligence is not knowledge.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        How do you measure the intelligence of a being without knowledge? What I think you're trying to say is: "The intelligence metrics I care about try not to put too much weight on prior knowledge."

        But since the person you're replying to talked in conclusion of "the skill", with "the material" as prerequisite, your assertion is a strawman.

        I think OP is arguing that skill at a complex task is a far more useful measure of intelligence than intelligence quotient. Yes, you can find some correlation between IQ and s

      • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Saturday October 24, 2015 @06:29PM (#50794965)

        Intelligence is not knowledge.

        Intelligence is the ability to formulate an effective initial response to a novel situation. Having a large database (ie: knowlege) of other problems and solutions, is a big part of that, because you can often adapt the solution to a similar problem, to the current situation. Intelligence is the application of knowledge.

        • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
          Knowledge does help, but some people can walk into a problem with virtually no related knowledge and still come up with good answers quickly. In these situations, it seems to be someone's ability to simplify a problem, use reason, and ask good questions to quickly find their missing knowledge.
        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Knowledge accurately is simply the product of intelligence. The greater the intelligence the greater the complexity of knowledge that can be produced and understood.

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          But gaining more knowledge doesn't make you more intelligent, rather it makes the situation less novel. You don't become more intelligent simply because you have more knowledge to apply, it's how well you do it not how much you do it.

      • Intelligence is the ability to apply knowledge to solve difficult problems - at least that's my definition.
      • Isn't Google PageRank diminishing this difference?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 24, 2015 @04:55PM (#50794543)

      Yes but there is currently quite a political push for a natural aristocracy, which with my British heritage reminds me of Thatcher's speech in 1983ish where she talked about how she wanted a return to Victorian values - ostensibly about hard work getting you Up There, but in practice about everyone deserving and maintaining their place, no matter how opulent or squalid.

      So you have an awful lot of studies which try to tell you that some tests determine your rightful position in life, when in fact such tests are about likelihood that someone measured only by that test will perform to certain standards. It hopefully doesn't take more than a high school understanding of statistics to understand why even regarding this as a measure of potential is going too far - and to select people based on such tests is irrational.

      I have an IQ in the 140s, and certain larger firms take this way more seriously than they should, as I'm going to royally fuck up certain tasks that some of my colleagues with lower IQs can perform from competently to excellently. I will probably be quite good at quickly identifying how I'm being measured performance-wise, though, and I'll be great at Playing The Game for career advance. Similarly, I did really well at school and university, but I hardly cared for or understood in much depth any of the material beyond what I saw as required for homework and exams.

      I was great at cramming, and forgetting everything within a month. I am almost ashamed at my professional (engineering) qualifications, because - while they're not relevant to my current field, tf - when I achieved them, I knew there is no way I should ever be given the responsibility they imply I am ready for. If you want anything actually deliverable, you will need to put me in a wider team of more disparate talents, and keep me only on the things I excel at. In fact, people like me are probably more trouble than I'm worth - or at least this was true before I stopped thinking I was hot shit and understood that we've set up so many of our modern educational and professional structures around very limited metrics, creating a positive feedback loop which promotes an increasingly narrow range of abilities.

      So, I have a fairly high if not astronomical IQ, I'm actually talented at certain specific things but fairly crap at most things (and hopeless at a lot of "obvious" things), and people like me are useful but by no means necessary - if someone else takes twice as long to do certain things I can do, but also doesn't fuck up on so much else, they're a more valuable contributor to the advancement of humanity. IQ is a test of speed, and the world makes itself increasingly a test of speed - yet speed does not solve very big problems.

      My poor brother is genius level IQ, yet can't really function in life at all - he's gripped with anxiety and shame and low self-confidence... self-confidence is in fact listed in the article as a significant factor in achievement. If you tell people they can do better, they're likely to do better - but if you tell people that for some reason their biology prevents them from improving, they won't improve. Is this like the placebo effect for intelligence? I know if I'm panicking about solving some problem and become convinced that I'll fail then my short term memory seems to disappear and I miss obvious patterns in favour of making some ridiculously complex set of connections.

      From the article, I take positive lessons:
      - Brain training exercises won't help your IQ, but that doesn't matter at all - even if they simply make you feel more confident, you will do better from day to day because of placebo effect. If they help you with specific skills such as mental arithmetic or memorisation techniques, even better.
      - Performance-enhancing drugs might be similarly placebo.
      - Physical exercise is once again shown to benefit mental acuity.
      - Socialisation is either correlated with or causes slower decline.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Bullshit alert! ::siren:: Whenever we get stories like this suddenly everyone is a genius... I'm in my mid thirties and I have NEVER met anyone who has had an IQ test. Did you take one of those bullshit internet IQ tests? lol

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The rarity of some score depends on the scale used. "Genius" is an informal term used to draw a line sometimes, and I wouldn't use it to describe me. I do use the label for my brother, however, because I recognise the raw power of his mind. But, as psychologists have already debated long ago, it's maybe a bad term to associate with IQ - you need way more ingredients to demonstrate the atypically brilliant productive output popularly associated with genius.

          We were both tested before taking academic scholarsh

        • I took a real, proctored IQ test when I was applying to a highly selective middle/high school. I remember two of the questions specifically, one where I was read a set of directions and asked how far I wound up from the starting point, and another where I was asked to rattle off as many nouns as I could in 60 seconds. How these measure IQ, I couldn't say (but I suppose they are better than SAT-style arithmetic & vocabulary questions, which only measure how much time you've spent studying).

          I also remem

      • by raind ( 174356 )
        So without understanding you actually Know nothing.
        For example, have you contemplated your place in this world? In the universe? Knowing these answers would man you have evolved to a high(er) level. Which is the purpose for being here physically.
      • The clue for me is the opening paragraph referencing dementia, where there is a degraded cognitive function but feelings and sensory abilities are unaffected. (inherent bias on a "news for nerds" site acknowledged)
    • Overall, I agree with you.
      Also, there are counterproofs that someone can be "smarter" (in unusual ways):

      When Brain Damage Unlocks The Genius Within
      http://www.popsci.com/science/... [popsci.com]
      http://www.livescience.com/453... [livescience.com]
  • by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Saturday October 24, 2015 @04:13PM (#50794379) Homepage

    As any computer systems engineer knows, it's all about compute and storage. This article is about compute. But storage has been vastly improved for all of us. We now store or keep knowledge on the Internet instead of keeping it in our heads. The access time of this storage is very fast, too, compared to paper files and libraries. This access time is also of low variability, as it is in our pockets now.

    Only trouble is that in terms of competitive advantage, the Internet is available to all. The best you can do is to learn how to use it slightly more effectively.

    But in terms of the Slashdot headline, "You Can't Get Smarter," I disagree -- we've all gotten a lot smarter.

    (That's right, I don't agree with those who say the Internet has made us dumber. I think the opposite.)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      we've all gotten a lot smarter.

      Ahh, to be young and ignorant again...

      • To be fair, he is smart enough to log in. ;)

    • If anything, the Internet has made me hornier. I can access porn anywhere, any time!
    • Memory and problem solving abilities are. You can make up for a lack of those using the Internet, but you'll still run into the old Dunning Kruger effect at some point. What you're doing is mistaking Cleverness for raw Intelligence. In D&D terms it's your Wisdom stat vs your INT.
    • As any computer systems engineer knows, it's all about compute and storage. This article is about compute. But storage has been vastly improved for all of us.

      It's also about I/O and cache/memory management. While computers give us faster storage, it sits across the I/O of our physical senses. Having "a good memory" is like having tons of cache on your CPU die, and for a lot of things this is more important than raw compute.

    • As any computer systems engineer knows, it's all about compute and storage. This article is about compute. But storage has been vastly improved for all of us. We now store or keep knowledge on the Internet instead of keeping it in our heads. The access time of this storage is very fast, too, compared to paper files and libraries. This access time is also of low variability, as it is in our pockets now.

      Only trouble is that in terms of competitive advantage, the Internet is available to all. The best you can do is to learn how to use it slightly more effectively.

      But in terms of the Slashdot headline, "You Can't Get Smarter," I disagree -- we've all gotten a lot smarter.

      (That's right, I don't agree with those who say the Internet has made us dumber. I think the opposite.)

      I have to disagree with the last sentence that you refuse to believe the internet made us dumber.

      I say "It gave us more knowledge, and of that there is no disagreement", The ability to think "out of the box" and with solutions to complicated problems, I say no. The internet destroyed ones ability of deep concentration, reflection and ability to deliver a unique solution to complex problems, I say "definitely yes to dumber".

    • As any computer systems engineer knows, it's all about compute and storage. This article is about compute. But storage has been vastly improved for all of us. We now store or keep knowledge on the Internet instead of keeping it in our heads. The access time of this storage is very fast, too, compared to paper files and libraries. This access time is also of low variability, as it is in our pockets now.

      Only trouble is that in terms of competitive advantage, the Internet is available to all. The best you can do is to learn how to use it slightly more effectively.

      But in terms of the Slashdot headline, "You Can't Get Smarter," I disagree -- we've all gotten a lot smarter.

      (That's right, I don't agree with those who say the Internet has made us dumber. I think the opposite.)

      You have got to be kidding. Having fast access to huge volumes of information is irrelevant to intelligence, or else every 14 year old with a smartphone would be far smarter than Isaac Newton or Einstein

  • by Anonymous Coward

    their effect is more to make you feel smarter instead of actually being smarter

    Just what we need, more idiots with high self esteem.

  • Smarter ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by randalware ( 720317 ) on Saturday October 24, 2015 @04:28PM (#50794423) Journal

    Smart is to keep trying and learning from your mistakes & failures.
    anyone can be smart.

    Wisdom is hard.
    When to say no, when to say yes, and when to say "I love you" :)

  • You Can't Get Smarter, But You Can Slow How Fast You Get Dumber

    ...what?

  • You can't get smart [wikipedia.org] but you can slow how fast you get dumber [wikipedia.org] by not choosing express delivery.
  • "[P]eople with the highest level of social integration had less than half the decline in their cognitive function of the least socially active subjects."

    ...Or the less the decline of their cognitive functions, the easier people find it to continue to keep with their up their social interactions?
  • I was on Facebook for a few years (before getting disgusted by their evil machinations and closing my account). I can't imagine that participating in the insipid, mindless, superficial interactions there does anything but ACCELERATE cognitive decline.

    • I was on Facebook for a few years (before getting disgusted by their evil machinations and closing my account). I can't imagine that participating in the insipid, mindless, superficial interactions there does anything but ACCELERATE cognitive decline.

      I think they meant actually talking to real people face to face.

      Just because it's called social media doesn't mean it's social engagement.

  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Saturday October 24, 2015 @05:01PM (#50794579)

    This doesn't agree with the research I've seen.

    The cognition-enhancing effects of psychostimulants involve direct action in the prefrontal cortex.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p... [nih.gov]

    Prescription Stimulants' Effects on Healthy Inhibitory Control, Working Memory, and Episodic Memory: A Meta-analysis.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p... [nih.gov]

    Efficacy of stimulants for cognitive enhancement in non-attention deficit hyperactivity disorder youth: a systematic review.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p... [nih.gov]

    Psychostimulants and cognition: a continuum of behavioral and cognitive activation.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p... [nih.gov]

    Cognitive effects of methylphenidate in healthy volunteers: a review of single dose studies.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p... [nih.gov]

    The neurobiology of modafinil as an enhancer of cognitive performance and a potential treatment for substance use disorders.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p... [nih.gov]

    Not to mention Adderal, caffeine, and Nootropics, such as Piracetam, Ocetam, high dose B12, Hydergine (an ergoloid mesylate), as well as about a dozen others.

    But you know: NYT knows best.

    • The article refers to dementia, but the references you provide relate to healthy cognitive funtions, ADHD, and substance abuse. There is a role for a role for medicines in the very last stages of demnentia, but until then adopting a social/phsyical model of disability is as effective, more ethical, and a whole lot cheaper.
  • I've tried Lumosity [lumosity.com] for a while, and I wouldn't recommend it. The scope of the problems is so narrow, I couldn't imagine it increasing your intelligence. If you want to do better on an IQ test, then study for that; otherwise there are better uses for your time.
  • Some people very funny, their reaction about things very fast, that I say myself "why do you could think about that". They are "intelligent" in social interaction, but, may be they are not "intelligent" at physic.
    Some well known scientists are famous with their forgetfulness, and social skill, e.g, Paul Frampton [telegraph.co.uk]:

    The former wife of Paul Frampton, the Oxford-educated scientist in prison in Argentina accused of smuggling cocaine, says in her first full interview that he is a "naïve fool".

  • We've been making computers smarter for half a century through software alone. But we can't make people smarter by giving them better problem-solving techniques?

    Derp.

  • "You can't get smarter..." but you "can provide short-term boosts [to intelligence]"

    So if there is an activity that provides a short term boost, periodically doing that activity for the rest of your life would make you smarter.

  • Social integration as a neuro-protective influence was of interest to me since A) I'm getting old, and B) I can't fucking stand people except my wife, and even her sometimes...

    "People with the highest level of social integration had less than half the decline in their cognitive function of the least socially active subjects." But here's the thing, that study's assessment of so-called cognitive function was wildly extrapolated from "a simple word-recall test." It seems unsurprising that doing the social ra

  • Slow aging-related cognitive decline (as measured by IQ tests) is a myth, which has been known to be incorrect for decades.

    The bulk of the stereotype of the old being senile is the result of a handful of diseases (such as Alzheimers, CJD, and strokes). These affect a significant number of individuals, but not the bulk of them. Considering the rest:

    During the first few decades after the invention of IQ tests, much research was done on many people in many age groups and many regions of the US (and elsewhere

It is much easier to suggest solutions when you know nothing about the problem.

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