I’ve been doing the equivalent of a mental exercise program for about 10-20 minutes a day for the last few weeks on lumosity.com.
I’ve always believed that I’ve had some degree of control over my overall mental acuity. For example, I naturally assumed that choosing to read instead of watching TV would help stem the tide of atrophy being caused by my excessive alcohol consumption. Nevertheless, I thought that I was basically stuck with the mental hardware (IQ) that I was born with.
It turns out that there has been a lot of research done in the last few decades in the area of neuroplasticity that challenges this long-held belief. Researchers have discovered that the brain can fundamentally reorganize itself when confronted with new challenges and that this reorganization can occur regardless of one’s age.
Building on this concept, Lumosity has come up with a series of games on their site that are targeted at improving intelligence in the areas of speed, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem solving.
Although most of the games are simple in concept, they are engaging because they constantly adjust to your skill level and thus provide an optimal training intensity. That means that if you suddenly get in over your head you won’t get stuck and become frustrated. Instead, the game will drop back a notch in difficulty for a little while before giving you another chance to redeem yourself.
Lumosity also tries to keep members engaged by providing game-like feedback, comparisons with other members, customized training programs that allow you to target areas you are particularly weak in (memory for me), and historical progress charts to show your improvement over time.
Here are a few of the games that I’ve been playing:
Memory Game – A pattern flashes on the screen and you have to click squares to recreate it. The grids expand in size with each right answer and contracts in size if you get it wrong.
Attention – You have to hit the arrow key as quickly as you can to match the direction of the center bird, which is often pointing in a different direction than the other birds.
Flexibility – In this task switching game, you have to focus on whether the number is even when it appears in the top grid or whether the letter is a vowel when it flashes in the bottom. This is surprisingly hard (at least for me), especially since the numbers and letters randomly swap places.
I’m not really expecting any dramatic improvements from this new training program. Basically I would be happy with the equivalent of overclocking my CPU, refragging my hard drive, and maybe even adding a new a new 1 GB memory stick.
However, if all else fails I’ve at least found an effective warm up technique to jump start my day.