Tips for Building Brain Power

Dan Hurley, journalist and author of Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power (Hudson Street Press, 2013), looks at, and tries out, the latest research that intelligence is not a "given" but can be boosted through training. 

EVENT: Dan Hurley will speak with two leading brain training scientists on Feb. 11 at 8 p.m. at an Empiricist's League gathering in Williamsburg.  The event is free, but reservations are requested.

Hurley used his own brain as a guinea pig for the book. He spoke to hundreds of researchers and spent years traveling around the country in the hopes of get his brain in better shape. Hurley says: “I tried just about everything that there’s scientific evidence for, and seems relatively safe.” Here are four things we learned from his experience.

Four Ways to Make Yourself Smarter

  • Enlist the help of the internet. The brain exercises that helped Hurley the most were “n-back” games he played online. The player is shown a sequence of colors, letters, or objects, and must identify when the thing he or she is being shown matches the object a certain number (“n”) steps ago. 
  • Consider nicotine, but don't smoke. Certain studies suggest that nicotine might help boost brain power – for instance, smokers are half as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. However Hurley strongly advised against picking up a cigarette in the name of getting smarter, nor did he advise just anyone try wearing a nicotine patch (for the record, he wore a 9mg patch).
  • Meditation for focus, spacing out for "aha!" moments. Mindfulness meditation will help you focus, but it could come at a cost. Hurley says: “It seems to improve test scores if you're trying to take the GRE, it improves working memory, other things like that. But when you’re trying to be super creative and have a 'break though,' mind wandering seems to be more useful.”
  • Nurture, not nature. Humans are not inherently born with a fixed amount of intelligence or IQ.  Instead, intelligence is something anyone can build or improve on. Some encouraging words from Hurley:  “This is not something you’re stuck with just because some psychologist gives you a number, or someone told you something when you were a kid.”

Good luck!