Monday, November 21, 2011

Open Source Brain Training Games

I've been reading a lot about brain training software and nootropics lately and have been playing around with Brain Workshop, an open source dual N-back game that is supposed to improve short term memory and fluid intelligence. There are lots of brain training games out there, like Brain Age, but Brain Workshop and other dual N-back games are based on research that shows you can improve your fluid intelligence by playing the game for 20 minutes a day for about a month. This is supposed to provide a long lasting boost to memory.

Brain training games like gbrainy are helpful for challenging the mind, but there's not a lot of research backing the claim that such games improve general intelligence outside of the specific game being played. The interesting thing about the dual N-back training game is that there was a paper published showing that unlike other games it does improve mental function in non-game tasks.

The dual N-back game sounds simple but gets tough really quickly as you increase the number of steps back you have to remember (the "N" in the name) and your memory starts to get really challenged. You have to remember the position and the audio cue from 1 step back and hit the appropriate key if one or the other or both match what is currently displayed. As the number of steps back increases from 1 to 2 and above it gets way harder. It really feels like you're stressing and building your brain the way you would a muscle.

I found one decent online IQ test using Raven's Progressive Matrices that has free results. It's Flash based and located here. I took it and recorded my results, and intend to take it again after spending a month doing the Brain Workshop regimen of twenty minutes a day. The only problem is that I might just be too lazy to commit to that. We'll see. Given that Skyrim is out and Oblivion and all its DLC went on sale on Steam recently, I have lots of things vying for my attention.

If you take the IQ test feel free to share your score in the comments. Obviously this test only measures your ability to see patterns and no IQ test can ever really measure all types of intelligence, but I still think it's interesting to check.

Games like gbrainy and Brain Workshop seem like the perfect thing to get my older relatives to start playing, as some of them are starting to get old enough to experience a drop in short-term memory. This is something I'll have to measure and test over time to see if there is a positive result from playing the games.

A related thing I've been reading about online are nootropics or smart supplements. Things like piracetam, which has been shown to increase communication between the hemispheres of the brain. There are a bunch of supplements that are safe and supposedly improve cognition like choline, ashwaganda, lion's mane, gingko biloba and bacopa. I'm still reading about these, but supplements seem like an easy way to improve mental performance, if they work. It'll be interesting to combine some with the dual N-back game and test the results.

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