What are your thoughts on Dual N Back?

So it’s 2020 now and I haven’t seen any updated threads on the topic so I figured I’d make one. Has there been any proof or conclusive evidence to suggest that Dual N Back can improve one’s working memory and help one with other tasks (transfer)? Or is it still all up in the air? I’m trying to see whether or not I should justify practicing for 20 sessions a day. At least, have any of you experienced any anecdotal evidence that you care to share about? Perhaps you’re ability to focus, concentrate, or to grasp new concepts at school has improved. Please let me/us know.

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The evidence is iffy.

This paper finds no evidence of any working memory or fluid intelligence improvement from dual n back training, while showing that the evidence from other studies is highly inconsistent.

If you are looking for any form of self improvement, I’d highly recommend you read the book Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. Ericsson has spent his career studying elite athletes, musicians and the like and puts his lessons into this book. In terms of its direct relevance in terms of whether you should work on a dual n back, he shows that performance on tasks, as well as their ability to concentrate on a task, is far more affected by a participant’s grasp on the subject matter than any supposed generalised intelligence on the part of the participant. Look at memory league, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, if you’ve never practiced memory techniques you’re going to be completely outperformed by someone who has put in the practice.

I’d recommend you look at what you want to improve and work out how to improve on that, rather than trying to improve some general intelligence metric, be it working intelligence or anything else. That said, I’d highly recommend you read the book so you don’t have to take my word for it :slight_smile:

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I have briefly used dual n back while doing other training.

It improved my ability to continue thinking which is far transfer. This is a bit difficult to describe but if felt as though you could ’ continue without pause effortlessly '. I suppose you could say it improved my ability to manipulate whatever is present in my working memory.
I haven’t used it for long but I think I will start again and perhaps update on it then. I wasn’t entirely sure whether this result was due to dual n back or any other training I have done but I haven’t done dual n back since then and haven’t experienced this again.

The actual research has mixed results, some papers say no results, some say more results, others say you need to meet certain conditions for results, again more papers say things like you getting better at task switching rather than working memory as far as general transfer goes.

I don’t think there is a reason why brain training wouldn’t work, because you are still making new neural circuits which precisely determine the performance. It’s more about getting the right training in, the brain usually picks efficiency (memorize training data) over actually getting better at the task, as such transfer is more unlikely but at the same time it is not directly needed it just reduces how much training you need to do.

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@GildedTruffle makes some good points. To add to the discussion, there exists an article from the Gwern website (search dual n back gwern). The piece has over 90 footnotes and is quite extensive.

Quotes from article:

Subtitle: A compendium of DNB, WM, IQ information up to 2015.

The theory originally went that novel cognitive processes tend to overlap and seem to go through one central bottleneck. As it happens, WM predicts and correlates with IQ and may use the same neural networks, suggesting that WM might be IQ. WM is known to be trainable, and so improving WM would hopefully improve IQ. And N-back is a family of tasks which stress attention and WM.

This author has not gained any benefit in their personal life (quote):

Have I seen any benefits yet? Not really. Thus far it’s like meditation: I haven’t seen any specific improvements, but it’s been interesting just to explore concentration …

but then, the author says that there do exist studies showing favorable results, but that there is also considerable criticism.

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Here’s the link to the Gwern meta analysis, which in my opinion is a good place to start:

It says that some studies showed an increase in IQ, but it was highly correlated with an active control group:

This indicates that … the gains are due to the motivational effect of passive control groups (who did not train on anything) not trying as hard as the n-back-trained experimental groups on the post-tests.

So when one group trained n-back and another one did some other training, both groups scored higher at the final IQ test because they were more motivated.

The analysis also says that the effect was a bit higher with n-back than with other sorts of training, although it isn’t clear if there were more confounding factors that influenced the results:

The remaining studies using active control groups find a small positive effect (but this may be due to matrix-test-specific training, undetected publication bias, smaller motivational effects, etc.)

Here is another meta study that found small benefits for intelligence from n-back:

Unfortunately only the abstract is available.

Personally I would say: Give it a try! Maybe you will waste a lot of time, but at least you know it for sure then.

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Thanks everybody for your insightful replies. I was going to reply to each of you individually but decided not to since I’ve already decided not to use Dual N Back. There’s not enough evidence out there to justify me spending so much time on it, in my opinion.

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So from every scientific paper I poured through (10-20 recent ones and skimmed over older studies), two things are clear: a) there is some positive effect of dual-n-back on WM. and more importantly b) not a single study had a sample-size, length of time or intensity level close remotely close for one to expect any discernable change. Most of them were "control group did X/nothing, dual-n-back group did 10min, 3 times/week for 5 weeks. If this were a study on physical exercise, this sample-size/length/intensity level would be laughable.

I’d be very interested to see a more robust study done (i.e. 30min-to-1hr, 5x/week for 6 months), but it would be wholly unreasonable to expect any change whatsoever from putting such minimal strain on a muscle over such a short period of time, so the fact that there was some discernible improvement in WM is more encouraging than the critics would have you think.

From my experience doing this for 20-40min, 5-6x/week for the last 3 weeks (and a similar regiment for 2 months 3 years ago), there is absolutely a massive cognitive improvement in the before and after on everything from reading retention (nearly never reading a page only to forgot the first paragraph), to following conversations to remembering to-do tasks without reminders.

I see it as a muscle. If you’ve ever tried to get really big and started on a strength-training program, you’ll know that 10min/day 3x/week over just 5 weeks will do very little. Conversely, do 30min+, 4-6 times a week for a month and it’s shocking what it can do, do that consistently for 3-4months and it is shocking both how much your physique can change, but also how strong you are…

Though on a micro scale, our brain is a finally-tuned set of muscles… any scientists categorically denying that exercise can change the long-term strength and agility of that muscle group to me, should not be allowed to publish - any assertion to that effect is just so far from what science has taught us thus far on neuroplasticity, those ‘non-conclusive’ studies should have been refuted long ago. I’m not sure why anyone is trying to so vehemently to disprove that brain games work, especially one like dual-n-back that provides such intense benefits. I guess as forward-thinking as we like to assume scientitsts are, perhaps it’s actually the reverse, and that in treading ever so lightly so as not to draw the ire of the accredited intelligentsia, each new study published takes every precaution so to stray to far from the last. it’s sad unfortunetaly.

All to say, the training works. You inquired into the game (and cognitive training in general) because you wanted to make your mind stronger and faster… approach the training like you would if it were your body**, and you’ll be shocked at the noticeable changes. Cheers!

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I agree with you.

All the information I know about the brain makes it seem illogical to believe that it doesn’t change with training.

I think there are other considerations to make with training such as when memory feeds in too. We can easily remember ‘very fast songs’, but can’t exactly iterate random lyrics without training as quickly if we are not replaying the song in our head.

People definitely overestimate the accuracy some scientists have. I have seen statements being made, publicly believed and refuted with evidence all within the span of 5 years. Looking back about the argument on neurogenesis, where there was a span of an entire year where people somehow believed that what rats could do we could not (inferior).

Unfortunately, it is somewhat difficult to do things like ‘adding weight’ to your training regimen, with the brain. I remember when I trained under severe sleep deprivation, I woke up after a full rest with notable ‘attention improvements’ which I could not maintain for longer than a few days as I needed to sleep deprive continuously to face adequate resistance. With the brain it is somewhat like having body-weight exercising routines.

I would be interested to finally see people employ spaced repetition in training when they want their results to last given ‘minimal’ training time. Even with strength training, you can definitely maintain your strength for progressively longer duration by spacing the training sessions. On that point for some reason there is this massive hole in the theory that states ‘for unknown reasons varying the time of the stimulation promotes long term adaptations’, making people assume that it is confusion over increasing duration, but even that is not employed when people are actually doing any ‘brain training’ studies.

There is even this paper : https://www.nature.com/articles/srep07089
Claiming that compared to a control group there was an average 12 point IQ increase, “following a 9 week training regime that associated 13 letters of the alphabet with specific colors”.

It would be interesting if more training approaches are developed and tested.

Hello. I want to say something to the topic. I dare to state that I have great experience at memory techniques and focus related training such as master system, loci method, bi neural beats, and neurofeedback. I am doing memory training since 2007 and bought a version of a dual n-back program in 2009 after I read an article about it. To me, there is no doubt that one can dramatically improve one’s cognitive abilities. There are at least three things that I personally prefer. Memory techniques, as for memorization of cards and numbers, neurofeedback, and the dual n-back training. For all of these three things, I can say that they changed my life. And I know all the debates about this topic. To me, it is all ongoing nonsense. When studies occur, despite whether they are about dual n-back or completely different topics, it often makes me wonder what the people that conducted the studies actually were focusing on and I often want to ask them whether they ever did memory training seriously and consequently on their own. Especially those that seriously doubt the effects or claim that these all are just a placebo. Memory training changed my life in such a dramatic way that I just don’t care about these discussions anymore. I sometimes trained people or helped them to learn these techniques. One of my clients called me approximately one year after I trained him with a neurofeedback device and asked me whether I can train him further on since he slowly recognizes what the effects are and how much his life benefits from these effects. Even if there are some effects of the training that show quickly, I also recognized that there are a lot of effects coming much more slowly and this is often what makes me keep on doing. Nowadays people often are astonished how fast I can learn things or that I am amazingly able to focus and to recall details of situations, events, names, or conversations. In the heydays of my training, I used the dual n-back training at a minimum of 4 times a week up to 45 minutes. I remember that I wasn’t able to do anything in this time without suddenly remembering things of situations, like things I saw or heard and which I wasn’t actually aware of that I somehow registered them with my senses. My memories literally burst into my consciousness and there were even more effects. My reflexes seemed to increase without doing something for it. I also have the feeling that I can remember way better about things that happened long before the time that I started the n-back training in. I can organize my life very effectively what was never the case before. To explain this effect there is also more than just one reason. By the training, I improved my mental abilities without a doubt, But I also learned about my limits and from this, I could make decisions like reducing the number of hobbies and obligations that otherwise permanently demand and exhaust my limited cognitive, and mental resources and lead to bad decisions. It may sound arrogant, but personally I have the feeling that a lot of people in my environment are struggling to cope with their life without noticing because they’re permanently overestimating their mental and organizational capabilities. That often shows in the fact that they wonder, because it seems to them that I have much money without working more than they do. In fact, I work less than they do. And it is true that I generally have more time and more money than they do while having an equal income. I am just not forced anymore to spend money on unnecessary things and events that can be prevented by being well organized and recognizing ever occurring patterns that to me seem to be obvious. What in fact, was not the case for a very long time. I also learned when these are my limits, and I am just an average person, it is possible that others have the same limitations and that they are overtaxed as quick as I am when I am in the position to confront them with new information, which also can be that I demand something from them or talking to them in a complicated manner. That thought and awareness made me focus on how to conduct good conversations and how to express oneself in a way that makes other people easy to follow. It changed my behaviour towards other people very positively. All in all my progress is the result of the combined effects of memory techniques, neurofeedback, and dual n-back and the awareness that arises from becoming aware of the effects, feelings, and limitations. If some may say they did the training, and they saw no effect this statement is often not really reliable. The first question I ask then is what they did, for how long. Often their training setting and the environment are more than just not ideally. E.g. Instead of deciding for one setting and stick to it consequently, they fool around during training and tend to procrastinate by trying new options of their training apps from the play store that are overfilled with distracting elements such as fancy graphics animations and loads of unnecessary options, which make it easy to get distracted and play around. Interestingly these “fancy” apps often have good ratings. One reason I was able to identify for this effect is, that people that vote these apps are not the representative group of people that doing serious memory training. A lot of them use these apps like they use all the other apps that can quickly be downloaded. Then these apps are fun for a while, get five stars to be dropped when people get bored by them. It’s like these language learning apps that are rated well. I barely met any serious language learner that was really convinced by the most popular and high rated and often also expensive language learning software. The people that rate them are often from software magazines. Since these people are mostly programmers or software designers they rate the software from their point of view. Behind these software applications are often professional companies with professional IT workers. So professionals rate professionals in their field. But they are programmers. They often rate the design. They are not the language learners that not only want a quick overview of the software but learn with this software for weeks, months, or even years. My experience with the software. Design only so much that it is not awkward to look at the user interface or handling is compromised. Behind that point. Less is more. Fewer graphics, fewer colors, fewer options.

It may seem a lot but that are just some aspects of the effects and benefits of mental and cognitive training. So if you ask me. It definitely works. If you want a second answer. Do the training. Take it seriously, and do it consequently for a minimum of half a year. Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings you become aware of when you do the training. Also making a mistake is that you learned that there must be another way. I am sure that every one that is doing the training right comes to the point where he or she doesn’t care about studies results any longer.

If anyone wants I can send you the dual n-back program I use.

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@Notorein
I am interested in the program you used.

Please just be sure that the license allows for sharing. Sharing copyrighted material in the forum isn’t allowed.

If anyone hasn’t seen it, there’s a free version of dual n-back here:
http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/

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@Dream
Hello. I use the program that I linked on my Facebook site. The program I used first was the braintwister from the University of Cognitive Science in Bern Switzerland. The linked program is very similar to this program but it has a some improvements. Since I was training with the braintwister program for a long time, and even if I found it sufficient for training, I noticed a lot of weaknesses For example, it is simplified and reduced to the minimum of setting options. I coded it my self and trained with it for a long time. I think I can make some improvements in the quality of the sound and I look for female voices for the program. The program may cause a false virus alert when you run it the first time on a Windows computer since it is a JAVA program. Check it with an antivirus program so you can be sure that I tell you the truth when I say that there is no virus or trojan in it. I just don’t know yet how to create a valid certificate that prevents windows from give a virus warning. If you find some things that I can improve please let me know.

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I coded the program I use. So I think it is ok. :grinning:

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Sounds good, just checking. :slight_smile:

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@Josh

I was delighted if you could give me a reply whether you found the program on Facebook. I am a newbie and not very advanced in using the web even if I can code programs. I wanted to share the link in my posts but for some reason I am not allowed to do so. You can find my program on Facebook when you look for Dual N-Back. I have a picture with a yellow square on it. This is my site. You can also look for : Nou
There you will find a picture with blue squares on it. On this site you will find a “Use my app” button that leads to the download link.

I didn’t find the program on Facebook. (I don’t use Facebook.) I think that version of dual n-back is the original, or at least one of them. There are other posts about it here:
https://forum.artofmemory.com/search?q=brainworkshop

You can communicate with people here by private message if needed — just click any username and click the “Message” button.

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Have you received any permanent benefits from dual n back or must you continue to train for 45 minute sessions 4 times a week?

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Yes I have received permanent effects of the dual n-back training. I didn’t have to continue all the time. I also noticed permanent effects from neuro-feedback training where permanent effects are proven by studies.

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I did ask a similar question to this in a topic.

Can you describe this permanent effects in relationship to your previous mental abilities?
How do you know if its not a placebo effect?
Can you separate the perceived benefits into concrete units being sure that it is only dual N back training and non other training be it directly or indirectly to memory or other aspects of the conscious mind development?

Sorry if these questions appear highly interrogative. I personally have a dual N back program and currently at 4 as N.
I have two hypothetical scenario, either I am getting better an playing Dual N back game or that truly I am improving and its not just a subjective placebo, haha.

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I decided to give DualnBack another try due to your super convincing post. I read through it several times and was like, ya know, I’m gonna give it another shot. I’d like to know what method did you use? I’m using the pure intuition approach (not entirely sure if it’s recommended vs. something else) and I’m on Dual3Back at the moment. Also, how do you feel DualnBack has increased your ability to learn and process information, in general? Or would you say that the majority of effects were on your ability to focus/concentrate (which I might say is super important to learning anyways)? I’m super interested in your response seeing as you’ve done it for so long. What is your motivation now, if you don’t mind me asking, to continue with this type of training versus doing other things such as reading, etc.? Genuinely curious. I’m trying to make this a long-term habit, so having more of an understanding of what this could potentially do for me will definitely be quite motivating/helpful. Thanks!