Summary of Smarter by Dan Hurley

BookSummaryClub Blog Summary of Smarter by Dan Hurley

How does one become smart? Are you born with some inherent ability or is it simply learned experience? If it is in fact something you can learn to be, how do you start? So many questions, where to begin with answers? Well, firstly, Mensa does not allow applicants to take an IQ test twice because they believe that intelligence does not change. However, as with most things, practice and determination should be able to have some results.

Scientists believe that the way intelligence can be improved is different for different people. However, there are proven techniques that can be used to increase intelligence. Dan Hurley sets out to try these techniques to find out just how effective they are in increasing intelligence. 

In this book summary readers will discover:

  • Fluid and crystallized intelligence
  • How computer games can help
  • How to increase your intelligence
  • Brain training 

Key lesson one: Fluid and crystallized intelligence

Since 1971, intelligence has been separated into two categories. Psychologist Raymond Cattell introduced the two categories as fluid and crystallized intelligence. The way in which they are separated is based on the two manners in which we think.

Fluid intelligence refers to our ability to think logically and solve problems. It is based on our methods of reasoning, recognizing patterns and solving new problems that we have not previously been exposed to. In contrast, crystallized intelligence refers to the vast amount of knowledge and information that we have accumulated in our lives. We use crystallised intelligence when we need to remember something like riding a bike or answering questions during quiz night with our friends. 

Crystallized intelligence is therefore increasing as long as we live. Which led scientists to constantly insist that fluid intelligence cannot be changed. Fluid intelligence was thought to have achieved its peak during early adulthood. This fell in line with when most intellectuals would be at university and also was reinforced by the influential work completed by mathematicians, physicists and musicians around this age. New evidence, however, has changed this viewpoint and it all began with a way to measure fluid intelligence. The reason fluid intelligence is so hard to measure is that there is no direct way to see it exists. Fluid intelligence to scientists is what dark matter is to physicists. It is a conceptual idea that can’t be directly observed but can still be attempted to measure, what psychologists call a construct.

IQ tests are one such attempt at measuring fluid intelligence. These traditional tests use something called latent variable analysis. This is when multiple indirect measurements are analyzed in conjunction with each other. The manner in which the measurements sync determines the result of the test. To explain this clearly, you would receive multiple questions regarding mathematics and how your answers correlate would be analyzed. IQ tests have been a trusted indication of intelligence but a number of years but it is still an uncertain measurement method.

Brain scans in the form of functional magnetic resonance imaging of fMRI might provide a more direct method of measuring fluid intelligence. This is because it is able to show us fluid intelligence in action by showing blood flow in different regions of the brain. The more activity in a particular region, the higher the blood flow. This would mean that more neurons were firing and there was more brain matter involved in working on a particular problem. Studies in this area have shown that the amount of gray matter or neurons in the brain determine 6.7 per cent of fluid intelligence. The size of the left lateral prefrontal cortex also attributes 5 per cent of fluid intelligence. With the aid of fMRI, it has been observed that the left lateral prefrontal cortex to be highly active in tests involving working memory. 

Key lesson two: How computer games can help

Working memory is targeted in some computer games as an attempt to sharpen your intelligence. Lumosity was a company co-founded by Michael Scanlon whilst working on his doctorate in neuroscience at Stanford. Lumosity too psychologist designed cognitive tasks and turned them into fun and addictive computer games. 

One of these games is called N-back games and it specifically targets working memory. These games show you a sequence of elements and then questions you about a specific element so many places back. Hence the name, N back, with N referring to the number of places back that you have to remember. By playing these games for 20 minutes, 5 days a week for four weeks, psychologist Susanne Jaeggi proved that people could increase their fluid intelligence scores by 40 per cent. They have also been shown to improve the attention of children suffering from ADHD. For the first time ever, Jaeggi’s study in 2008 proved that fluid intelligence could be improved. 

Key lesson three: How to increase your intelligence

Besides computer games, there are other ways to improve your intelligence. Historically, physical fitness is one of them. Identified as an influence on cognitive performance in the 1960s, physical fitness in elderly people was shown to better their performance in a variety of cognitive tests. 

Currently, researchers are trying to narrow down which types of exercise results in larger increases in intelligence. They separate exercises into aerobic exercises like swimming or running and resistance exercises like weight-lifting. A study in 2012 conducted by Teresa Liu-Ambrose showed that when 86 women were randomly assigned to different forms of exercise for six months, only those that participated in resistance training showed improvements.  These improvements were seen in traditional cognitive tests of memory and attention and as increased activity on fMRI scans. 

The next area of focus when it comes to fluid intelligence is its relationship to learning music. Glenn Schellenberg paper titled Music lessons enhance IQ is central to this field of study. During the study, young children were randomly assigned to lessons in voice training, keyboards, acting and no lessons at all. The children continued these lessons for a year and after 36 weeks, all groups showed improved intelligence which was shown in IQ tests. The interesting outcome is that the children who had voice lessons had the largest improvements, followed by keyboard lessons and then acting. The children with no lessons had the least improvements. 

These research areas have all found evidence that suggests that fluid intelligence can in fact be improved. However, many scientists still doubt if this is the case.

Key lesson four: Brain training

Even though the actual improvement of intelligence is continuously questioned, research continues on how to increase cognitive performance. In order to make sense of results, scientists are turning to meta-analysis. A meta-analysis uses statistical techniques to make sense of differing results across studies. It is almost as if it can look for patterns across studies to allow us to see the bigger picture.

This was exactly what Charles Hulme and Monica Melby-Lervåg set out to do when they used meta-analysis on 23 studies on brain training and how it can improve working memory. Their specific aim was to determine if far transfer could be found as a result of brain training games such as N back games. Far transfer refers to improvement in one area also being seen as an improvement in another unrelated area – in this case, that verbal working memory training improved non-verbal reasoning. The results of the meta-analysis showed a small but definite improvement in 22 of the studies but researchers were still not convinced. 

They said that just because improvements were seen in both areas it does not necessarily mean that it would improve performance in real life.

Despite these hesitations, people still believe in brain training. The US military, for example, has invested millions in brain training programs for their intelligence analysts. They firmly believe that by using a variety of brain training techniques, cognitive abilities can be improved. 

The key takeaway from Smarter is:

Intelligence can be divided into two categories, fluid and crystallized. As much as scientists believe that fluid intelligence cannot be improved after a certain age, many studies have proven otherwise. N back computer games, physical exercise and music lessons have all shown improvements in fluid intelligence. A large part of this book is dedicated to Hurley’s experience in trying out these methods and although he made some improvements, he recommends that everyone try it for themselves as everyone’s results will vastly differ. It is because of these vast differences that there are still debates surrounding this. Research continues in these areas to try and give everyone the definitive answers they are looking for. 

How can I implement the lessons learned in Smarter:

If you wish to improve your cognitive performance, try N back games. Playing these games for 20 minutes every day can have a positive effect on intelligence. It will also be beneficial if you take up music lessons and maintain a healthy lifestyle with physical exercise which includes resistance training. This is a lot to add to your day but if you are determined to improve your fluid intelligence, you should definitely give it a try.

🤙 Your Next Step… 🤙

Head across to one of the following pages for more goodies

🍕 Read our Blinkist review and become a member of Blinkist. Read or listen to 3000+ full version quality summaries!

🍕 Read our list of the best business books of all time

🍕 Read some more of our book summaries

🍕 See our top book summary apps