Train Your Brain to Learn

Train Your Brain to Learn

“Stay hungry, stay foolish” – said Apple-founder Steve Jobs in his famous speech to graduates of Stanford University who were entering the professional world with a yearning for knowledge and open and inquisitive minds. This hunger and this curiosity are not only the most powerful drivers of innovation and progress, they also open doors and reveal new horizons for those who possess them – in both their professional and private lives. But how can we teach our brains to master the enormous challenges of modern professional life while preserving this flexibility, hunger, and ability to learn?

Fundamentally, human intelligence can be broken down into two components – fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. While crystallized intelligence describes factual and social knowledge (for example about the capital cities of the world), fluid intelligence relates to the thinking process we need for learning and the solution of problems. Crystallized intelligence can grow throughout our lives, as could be observed in the case of the recently deceased former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Until only a few years ago, it was generally considered a hard fact that fluid intelligence began to continuously decrease from the mid-twenties of our lives. 

Decrease of Cognitive Resources over Time

– Baltes et al. (1999): Lifespan Technology: Theory and Application to intellectual Functioning, Annu. Rev.Psychol. 1999. 50:471-507.

In contrast to this, more recent research has shown that an active cognitive lifestyle and certain techniques can actually increase our fluid intelligence as we grow older. In particular, scientists at the University of Bern have determined that people frequently employed in demanding cognitive activities remain mentally fit and active to a much greater age. The cognitive-buffer hypothesis is one train of thought in which researchers assume, in a very simplified explanation, that our brain is “trained” by cognitive exercise and builds additional resources, in the same way as a muscle develops more muscle fiber as a result of physical training.

Fluid and crystallized intelligence play essential roles at work and in our everyday lives, as only interaction of the two can release their full potentials and performance. People who are open-minded and curious encounter the previously unknown as they go through life. This is first perceived, then processed, filtered according to relevance, and categorized on the basis of existing knowledge. The ever-increasing flood of information generated by our modern, knowledge-based society presents humanity with one new challenge after another. Training activities and personal advancement demand more and more from our cognitive resources, and even simple tasks like working through tidal waves of e-mails, missed calls, and scheduled meetings can rapidly deplete these valuable resources. 

Can We Remain Curious Despite the Stress?

People who want to get ahead and learn new things despite all this must remain active in order to satisfy their hunger for knowledge. 

When we learn, new information content is temporarily stored in our working memory (fluid intelligence) before it can find its way into our long-term memory (crystallized intelligence). In 1956, an article published by cognitive psychologist George A. Miller argued that the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory is 7 ± 2. For a long time, the capacity of the working memory was considered to be an unchangeable constant. Since the findings published a few years ago by psychologist Prof. Dr. Susanne Jaeggi, we now know that the working memory actually can be trained and improved. 

Her work showed that regular brain training noticeably increased candidates’ performance in tests requiring retentiveness and deductive reasoning. Decisive factors here are the regularity and the personalization of the exercises, and how they must continuously adapt to each individual’s performance level to train them to the limits of their abilities. 

Rewards for Curiosity

Cognitive performance, be it brain training or simple assimilation of new content, leads to the release of the hormone dopamine. Dopamine is a so-called happiness hormone. Through the release of this hormone, our brain rewards us with positive emotions that increase our appetite for new knowledge and motivate further development. The findings of research conducted by scientists at the University of Karolinska reveal that the activation of our working memory leads to the creation of a higher density of dopamine receptors. Reward yourself, train your mind, learn something new!

Computer-Assisted Brain Training for the Improvement of Learning Abilities

Although a brain training program cannot constantly provide new knowledge to still the appetite of human curiosity, it can provide intensive assistance in the process of establishing the required reserves. The brain training program from NeuroNation is a proven scientific method that effectively increases the performance of the working memory, which, in turn, makes itself noticeable in fluid intelligence– and breaks down all barriers to curiosity.

After graduation as a Master of Science (M.Sc.), Corporate Finance & Entrepreneurship, Jakob Futorjanski began his professional career with PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory in the financial consultancy business and later moved to Rocket Internet. Since its launch in 2010, more than 10 million users have taken advantage of NeuroNation, the cross-platform mobile application for scientific brain training developed by Rojahn Ahmadi, Ilya Shabanov and Jakob Futorjanski with the aim of improving memory, focus, logical thinking and problem solving skills.

This piqued my curiosity!