In this article you will be given:
- An effective brain training exercise you can do any time- without a computer.
- Improved ability to work through complex problems, decisions or trains of thought in your own mind without losing track.
- A clear understanding of the nature of working memory and how it works in close association with your fluid intelligence (Gf) – your ability to reason, solve novel problems or see new conceptual relationships.
Let’s start with some working memory brain training
Working memory definition: the brain processes that enable you to hold in mind, and further process, goal relevant information in short-term memory in the face of concurrent processing and / or distraction.
The amount of information that can be held in mind in working memory’s ‘mental workspace’ is limited – but some individuals can hold more information in mind than others – that is, they have a larger working memory capacity (WMC)
Here is a do-it-yourself working memory training exercise you can do any time – whether using other IQ Mindware apps or not.
(1) Become familiar with belly (diaphragmatic) breathing. It gets its name from the way it uses the diaphragm (below the lungs) to fully saturate the lungs with oxygen. This has the effect of pushing the belly outward.
Here is a video introduction to belly breathing – its health benefits and how to do it.
(2) Find some free time where you are not doing anything and you can concentrate internally. Working memory training strengthens your ability to think internally – not have all your thinking driven by external stimulation.
(3) Belly breath IN for a count of 1-5 and OUT for a count of 6-10, and repeat this cycle, smoothly with no pauses. After each breath cycle where you’ve counted 1 to 10, keep an additional ‘placeholder’ count of the breath number, counting up from 1 to 10 and then down to 1 again marking each complete breath. So the pattern of the counting is:
1 2 3 …
(4) Start by trying to keep track of 19 belly-breaths – i.e. up to 10 breaths and down to 1 again (don’t count 10 twice before counting down to 1 again!). If you lose track of where you are, start again from 1.
(5) Once you have achieved this, extend the 1-10-1 cycles, so you can maintain this exercise to between 5-10 minutes. Any time you lose place start again from 1.
(6) In doing this exercise you are training your working memory and attention focus! In addition, you are practicing belly breathing which has a host of health benefits, including stress relief.
(7) If you feel like you have mastered this ‘dual counting’ exercise, you can combine it with listening to classical music. While keeping count, switch your attention when you can to the music and try to actively listen to it, noting what you want about the music – such as emotional tone, or tempo, or melodies, or instrument combinations. Listen to the music as if you were setting aside quiet time to really get the most out of it – being as attentive as you can. Switching between the counting task and the music will give you additional training in switching your attention between two concurrent tasks.
Why this working memory brain training improves fluid intelligence (Gf)
Fluid intelligence definition: the ability to reason, problem solve, and see new conceptual relations in novel situations where there has not been previous practice. Fluid intelligence (Gf) is the most highly correlated of all the underlying factors of IQ with general intelligence (g). In fact on some measures, it is virtually identical to g.
When you reason and problem solve or make decisions with your fluid intelligence, you typically have to work your way through a problem space – a kind of branching tree of possible solutions, or decision options, etc, that you have to run through while also keeping track of where you are in this problem space. This idea of a problem space is shown in the branching tree on the left in the diagram below.
Your focus of attention (α below), maintains some idea or information in mind in your limited capacity working memory (ω) – for instance a hypothesis or decision option. You may now do some figuring out with this idea such as imagining further implications of it (updating it). When you have thought thought about the implications, you need to disengage from that line of thought, and shift your attention spotlight to another part of the problem space – e.g. a different option. In this process you may go deeper and deeper into the problem space, as shown in the diagram. All these functions of working memory are shown on the right in the diagram.
Let’s consider an example:
You need to decide whether to (a) stay at home for the vacation, b) go on holiday for the vacation, or (c) postpone the vacation and complete a project. These three options are represented in the first row of the problem space – and comparing them with each other and prioritizing which order you will consider them takes up all your working memory’s workspace (shown on the right). You focus on option (a) first, and this has 4 implications (e.g. reconnect with kids, do some home repairs, visit in-laws, and wind down). You then focus in on the third of these options, and understand that it may result in two different – but uncertain – outcomes: renewing an old argument or enabling you to move on. At the same time it will definitely men doing a favor for your wife. Assessing these options in terms of probabilities and outcomes takes up your working memory workspace down at this level of the overall problem space. Having worked through all this, you need to be able to have held your place in the overall problem space, and now refocus on the ‘go on holiday for the vacation’ option at the top of the tree!
How concurrent breath counting improves fluid intelligence (Gf)
When you train your breath counting, you are training your ability to keep track of where you are in the ‘bigger picture’ (the breath count) – while also doing focused work on counting from 1>10>1 with each breath cycle. This translates to working on sub-tasks within an overall problem space, while also keeping track of exactly where you are in the problem space.
And that’s why this kind of working memory training helps to improve your fluid intelligence. It’s really that simple. Provided you are fully aware (meta-aware) of the contexts in which this kind of place holding while doing a concurrent task takes place when you are problem solving, reasoning or decision-making, this kind of breath counting training will help.
Factoid: Working memory & WAIS
The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) tests have been the most widely used full-scale IQ tests, for both adults and older adolescents, on the planet. A WAIS IQ test such as the WAIS-V is divided into sub-tests or ‘primary index scales’. One of these scales (with 2 sub-tests) is working memory – as shown here.
But working memory is more than just one of 5 primary index scales. It is central to all of the primary scales of general intelligence (g) – as we have seen in Kovacs and Conway’s Process Overlap Theory of general intelligence where the executive processes (black dots) = working memory & attention control.