As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently a participant in a study to test the effectiveness of “cognitive trainings” in improving “intelligence” whatever that means. I thought it might be nice to give a little update to let you all know what it’s like and how I’m doing. First, a bit about the research. I went in a few weeks ago and did some baseline cognitive tests for about three hours. A few days later, I went in and did some of the same tests in an MRI machine and got a lovely picture of my brain. Following that, I began doing the cognitive exercises every day. I’m supposed to do 35 session – one a day – and each session consists of 4 games that last about 6 minutes each. Here’s a quick description of the games:
- Floop – For this game, a set of letters will flash on the screen such as “AAUAA” and at the same time a voice says a letter. If the letter in the middle of the set shown matches the letter that is said, then you click “Yes” if not then you click “No.” As you get better, the time you have to respond is reduced and the letters on the screen get spaced out further.
- Memnosyne – For this game there is a 4×4 grid that appears on the screen. When you click “Start” a sequence of tiles is lit up one at a time. Once the full sequence has been shown, you are supposed to click on the tiles that lit in the order that they were shown. The difficulty here is increased by increasing the speed of the sequence shown and increasing the number of tiles that get highlighted.
- NBack – This is probably the hardest of all of the trainings, and also the most difficult to explain. At the beginning of the game a number is shown, for example “N=2.” The number increases as you get better at the game and the time you have to respond decreases. Following the number, the screen begins to show a sequence of letters. As the letters are shown, you’re supposed to click “Yes” if the letter is the same as the one shown N letters back, and click “No” if not. For example, if N=2 and the sequence goes A-B-C-B-A, then I would click “Yes” on the second B (because it’s the same as the letter that came two before it) and “No” on all the rest. So you have to remember the string of letters, and the harder it gets the more you have to remember of the string.
- ShapeBuilder – This is actually a lot like Memnosyne, only there are more factors to remember. The screen shows a 4×4 grid with 4 sets of colored shapes around it – green, red, blue, and yellow. When you click “Start” a sequence of shapes is flashed in the grid. Once the full sequence has been shown, you have to place the appropriate colored shape in the proper tile on the grid in the sequence they were shown. As it gets harder, the number of shapes shown and the speed they are shown increases.
Those are the four games, now here’s how I’ve been doing. The Floop and NBack games are impossible for me to do, but it’s mainly a technical problem. I’m supposed to be able to use the arrow keys on the keyboard to indicate “Yes” and “No” but for some reason it doesn’t work for me – I’ve tried my wireless keyboard and the keyboard on the laptop itself. As a result, I have to use the mouse to click the “Yes” and “No” buttons on the screen. This worked fine initially, but as the amount of time I have to respond decreases, it becomes virtually impossible to move the mouse to the appropriate button in time to mark my answer. As a result, I get them all wrong, and it’s very frustrating. I mentioned it to the researchers, and they are allowing me to do only the Memnosyne and ShapeBuilder exercises, but I have to do 2 sets of each every day in order to make up for the lack of the other two exercises. It’s a bit frustrating, because I get tired of doing 2 exercises for 12 minutes each, whereas doing 4 for 6 minutes isn’t so tedious. I’ve been doing it, though. So the second problem – and this is a persistent part of my character – is that I find it difficult to do the exercises every day like I’m supposed to. First, I missed a few days while working out the issues with the Floop and NBack exercises. After that, I’ve missed days here and there because I forget, or don’t have time to do them. I have this problem with classes where I have daily homework assignments to turn in – these are always the classes that I got B’s in rather than A’s. I’m much better at thinking long-term and getting a single large assignment (like a paper) done and in on time than I am at doing small tasks every day – I guess I’m just not consistent with my work. Anyway, I’m a little behind where I should be, and that means I have to do extra every day in order to make up.
As for how I’m doing on the tests, like I said, I’m only doing the Memnosyne and the ShapeBuilder exercises. I find Memnosyne surprisingly easy. I get stuck sometimes at a certain level, but with a little practice (and something seems to shift in the way I approach the problem) I can eventually get past it. For example, for a long time I had a hard time remembering 6 tiles at any speed, but I could do 5 almost without paying attention – I just seemed to know where they were when it came time to mark them. In the last few days, however, I’ve successfully passed 6 to the point where I can almost do it without thinking, and last night I made it to 8, though I don’t do very well at that level yet. ShapeBuilder is much harder, and my performance is much more erratic with it. I have made it to 5 shapes, and done okay there, but lately I’ve been going back and forth between 3 and 4 shapes at varying speeds. Sometimes I do well, and other times it’s just impossible. I have learned that the shape is the hardest thing for me to remember. I tend to do very well remembering the placement, and the color I can remember with a little effort, but the shape somehow gets lost in everything else. In order to deal with this, I’ve taken to saying just the shape either aloud or silently to myself as they appear. This helps me to remember the sequence of shapes and then I can let other parts of my brain remember the placement and colors automatically. It works okay, but I’m still missing something and it’s not consistent.
I don’t know how the end will play out. I don’t know if I’ll get some kind of indicator that shows whether my “intelligence” has increased, or anything like that. If I do, I’ll let you know, but I doubt it. I’m hoping to see the results of the study overall, though, and to see if my time spent on this was worthwhile.