Early in the twentieth century, psychologists set out to measure something mysteriously elusive: intelligence. What came out of their work was the Stanford-Binet, now the gold standard for measuring what they considered to be an innate, quantifiable, and immutable human quality.
Recently, companies such as Lumosity and Cogmed are advertising “brain-training” programs, designed to enhance “intelligence” skills like memory, visual-spatial processing, and analogical reasoning. The app store abounds with IQ boosting apps such as IQ Boost and Genius Test.
Do these programs work? Certainly, there’s something to be said for repeated practice. Put together a 25 piece puzzle ten times, and the task will get easier and faster each time. Studying vocabulary will help, and putting together abstract puzzles like tangrams will as well.
However, there’s no evidence to suggest that “brain training” has any significant long-term effects. While brain-training may result in short-term gains in IQ points and contribute to the prevention of degenerative neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, taking a crash course in Stanford-Binet probably won’t mean a Princeton acceptance letter.
Additionally, psychologists like Harvard Professor Howard Gardner claim that even the fundamental idea of intelligence as defined by the Stanford-Binet test is overrated. Those individuals with IQ’s the in genius range aren’t necessarily more successful on other measures of success, such as income, popularity, or overall happiness. Having a high IQ doesn’t take into account other important skills, such as organization and time-management, social skills, or physical prowess, since these skills are not tested on the Stanford-Binet.
Perhaps, then, the best use for these new IQ boosting media is the one we think of least when we think of brain training: entertainment. Keeping our minds occupied with riddles and puzzles keeps us feeling young and vibrant. It also keeps us away from the everyday worries, especially wondering just how “smart” we really are.