Dr. Silvia Bunge, director of the Bunge Cognitive Control and Development Laboratory at UC Berkeley, uses behavioral and brain imaging techniques to examine how we control our thoughts and actions to make them consistent with our internal goals. In a recent study reported by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in their Newsweek blog NurtureShock, kids in one of Dr. Bunge’s studies of reasoning ability gained an average of 13 IQ points after playing games for 20 hours in an eight-week program:

“Bunge’s team brought the games to an elementary school in Oakland with historically low state test scores. The researchers asked some second, third and fourth graders to stay after school to play. The kids’ IQ averaged a 90, and their brain speed (a subtest of intelligence) ranked them at only the 27th percentile. The children’s parents, on average, were high-school dropouts. These were the kids every education policy hopes to target, and every thought leader has an opinion on how to improve.

Twice a week, the kids played the games for an hour and fifteen minutes. Every fifteen minutes the kids moved to a new table, to make sure their brains always had something new to figure out. (The neuroscientists thought it was important the sessions remained fun.)

After just eight weeks – twenty total hours of game playing – Bunge’s team retested the children’s intelligence. They were specifically interested in the kids’ reasoning ability. According to the classic theories of intelligence, reasoning ability is considered both the core element of intelligence and also the hardest to change. Allyson Mackey, Bunge’s graduate student who supervised the study, thought she might see gains of 3 to 6 points, at most. “From adult training studies, we knew some improvement was possible,” said Bunge. “But it was enormous.”

The children’s reasoning scores, on average, leapt 32%. Translated to an IQ standard, that bumped them 13 points. For comparison, consider that a 12 point gain is normally how much a child’s IQ goes up after an entire year of school. By giving the children precisely targeted games, Bunge and Mackey were able to beat that, in just 20 hours of game playing.’ [Newsweek article continues…]

Bunge Lab at UC Berkeley

NurtureShock book website

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