Fluid Intelligence

by JT McGee

Improve your fluid intelligence and IQ with an n-back test.So it’s the day before Thanksgiving and we’re all thinking about grubbing hardcore later this week—err, I’m projecting—I’m thinking about stuffing my face tomorrow.

I’m going to keep it light today, and maybe go off on a tangent about something I’ve been reading about lately—fluid intelligence.

This latest obsession all started with the realization that my memory absolutely sucks. It’s beyond terrible. In short, it’s becoming a problem.

So I took to the Amazon App marketplace to see about memory games. I had read previously that these little training tools can be great for improving your memory. Okay—cool, I’ll give it a shot. I downloaded this free Memory Training app. (It’s titled “My Personal Memory Trainer” app on the loading screen if you want to go digging for it.)

N-Back Tests

Only a few games into it I get to this super challenging, but super fun, thing called an N-back test. Basically, it flips through cards with letters (A, B, C…) on them and you have to press a button whenever the most recent card has the same letter as another card “N” flips back. So, if in three flips you see A, B, A, then on the second A in a 2-back test you should click the button. This makes way more sense if you’ve ever taken an n-back test.

There’s a blog over at the ScientificAmerican, which, despite reading vaguely like a sales letter, does say a lot about the efficacy of n-back tests in improving memory. But it doesn’t stop just there, in fact, studies have shown that memory tests such as the N-back test can actually improve your IQ. Do I believe it? I’m not so sure—it’s certainly on my “to study” list. Studies I’ve seen show as much as one full standard deviation in IQ improvement after only a few weeks of “N-back training.” Some say 8-12 points. That’s a lot, really.

Fluid Intelligence

The N-back test supposedly improves your “fluid intelligence.” Fluid intelligence is your ability to reason and apply logic to new situations. The opposite, so-called “crystalized intelligence,” is your ability to use what you’ve learned. Basically, fluid intelligence allows you to spot patterns, trends, and respond to new problems, whereas “crystalized intelligence” more closely relates to memorizing a multiplication table.

Do I feel as though playing with the N-back test for a week has improved my fluid intelligence? Meh, I’m not that introspective.

Do I feel that my memory has improved tremendously? Yes.

You know, it’s almost incredible. And honestly, it may have to do with the fact that I had nowhere to go but up. Even still, my memory today is at least twice as good as it was last week—I’ve gone from .01 of the memory of an average person to .02! Rock on.

Maybe I’m just crazy and making stuff up. That’s certainly possible, although I have no reason to lie. And, besides, it’s about time we realize that placebos are the most economical cure to most anything. Placebos have cured far more diseases, problems, etc. than any other drug—okay, I’m getting off-topic.

If you’d like to take a really quick N-back test please be my guest. I found this as I was Googling for one: click here for the n-back test. Note that you don’t actually have to sign up to view your results (I nearly threw a fit when I thought it was one of those stupid advertisements). Instead, you can just click to view your results anonymously.

Does anyone have any input on the N-back test? Know anything about the research? Have you tried the N-back test before?

Photo by: Luke B

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric J. Nisall - DollarVersity November 23, 2011 at 10:37

I’d like to think I’m pretty intelligent about fluids. Especially Jack, Patron, Goose, and a few others.


JT McGee November 23, 2011 at 13:44

The only things that matter in life, am I right?


Eric J. Nisall - DollarVersity November 23, 2011 at 14:28

Right now, hell yeah.


Financial Samurai November 23, 2011 at 12:19

You’ve lost me JT…


JT McGee November 23, 2011 at 13:44

Then you must have a good memory.


Jonathan November 23, 2011 at 12:21

I also have a TERRIBLE memory for lots of things. For example, in college I could sit through a lecture and if someone asked me while I walked out, I wouldn’t be able to tell them the main points of the lecture. At work this causes problems when someone brings up an issue we’ve previously discussed or worked through on a project and I can’t recall anything about the issue. It drives my wife nuts too when she tells me things and I totally forget them. Sometimes I have these great ideas, and I’ll be working them out in my head, get momentarily distracted by something, and then can’t for the life of me remember what the idea was.

I’ll definitely look into these tests, because improving my memory would help immeasurably toward me being able to live up to my potential.


JT McGee November 23, 2011 at 13:43

Welcome to the club, my man.

My girlfriend wants to kill me for the things I forget. I can have complete conversations with her and not remember a single piece of what we talked about. In the same thread, I can watch movie after movie and remember only the main theme of the story, but nothing about the characters, their names, etc.

Definitely give a test like the n-back a shot. I’ve been giving it a whirl in the early morning as kind of a “pick me up” to get me moving, and right before bed. The total time investment is only a few minutes per day, and it really does seem to be working.


PKamp3 November 23, 2011 at 12:37

Like Eric, I assumed this was going to be a post about drinking during the holidays!

I’ve heard the same thing – but I highly doubt a full standard deviation… on most IQ tests the standard deviation is 15 and the average is 100 – so you’re talking a pretty hefty jump for someone of average intelligence. I can see a few points being possible – I always felt that IQ was, to a certain degree, trainable… at least by applying new methods to your thinking. I mean, in a lot of cases SAT scores improve as you take the test multiple times – and SAT scores correlate very closely with IQ scores.


JT McGee November 23, 2011 at 13:40

Well, yeah, but see, that’s the difference with the results from this particular n-back test and “studying” for logical thinking. The n-back is completely unrelated to thinking logically yet, those who engage in a few weeks of n-back training, do much better than the control groups on later testing. There’s no logical thinking to being able to remember what letter/image/whatever came up two flips ago, but it does seem to improve test performance tremendously, which is interesting.


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