I understand that the so-called brain training games like Lumosity doesn't work. But is there any exercise ( mental or physical) that I can do or medicine pills that I can take, that are proven to be able to improve one's learning ability?

I want to be able to learn fast, and I want to learn so that I can learn even faster!

I am aware that if one does a cognitive task/exercise continuously, one will get better at that task specifically, but this is not what I am looking for. I want the benefits of the exercise to spill over to learning ability.

Addendum: I found out what I was initially interested to ask: which is whether it is possible to improve one's fluid intelligence.

  • $\begingroup$ From the fluid intelligence question it seems the best one can do is keep one's body (including brain) healthy. This makes me wonder if there is a disconnect between intelligence and the brain, that is, is the brain causing intelligence or just making it possible. If it is just making it possible, then stay healthy to optimize whatever is causing intelligence which may be cultural such as education. $\endgroup$ – Frank Hubeny Jul 4 '18 at 15:12

Interventions which try to make a person 'smarter' in pretty much any sense of the word don't really work. In particular, methods very rarely show any spillover effects whatsoever.

However, what can work is the application of good learning techniques.

Most people trying to learn stuff tend to highlight, reread, summarise, or try fancy mnemonics. These usually don't work very well and are more likely to make you think that you know what you're doing than actually facilitate understanding.

What people generally don't do but what does work are distributed practice, spaced learning, practice testing.


I cannot cite peer-reviewed research, but at the very lest from my own quest for knowledge, practice (unsurprisingly) and increase in scope seem to work out pretty well.

Increase of scope being beneficial might have to do with reality being subject to a small set of basic underlying principles, so ultimately even seemingly unrelated topics of knowledge are eventually revealed to converge. So at some point you begin to see the parallels, and gain the ability to apply them to understand things better and easier. The gradual revealing of a previously obscure "big picture" if you will.

This has been the approach of some of the most prominent thinkers in human history, such as Leonardo da Vincci, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton just to name a few, Renaissance Men a.k.a polymaths.

Granted, polymathism limits the distance you can cover in any particular direction, but that only impedes pioneering. Spreading competence into several fields exponentially boosts the overall volume in which you can understand and apply knowledge. Seeing things from several different conceptual perspectives is far more useful than any amount of detail in seeing things from a single perspective. That is not to say that pioneering is not important, just that it doesn't really happen unless you are naturally gifted in that direction, which if you were you'd definitely know by the time you reach adolescence.

The so-called "brain training" cannot possibly result in ability you don't already have, just the improvement of what you already have. Like... you can't train math if you don't already know math, merely improving automated knowledge. What really matters in terms of enhancing learning ability is expanding your conceptual mind, and that involves the acquisition of new concepts.

Due to how the brain works, especially the chemical reward-punishment system, leaning is far from a pleasant process, the brain acts to reinforce that which it already contains, and to prevent that which it doesn't, indiscriminate as to whether the information is harmful or beneficial, so the most important thing is to be persistent, even when it doesn't seem like it yields results.

Another big impedance to learning is actually attempting to acquire knowledge as formulated by others. People's minds are fairly unique, that which works for one may not necessarily work for someone else. But also, if we don't have common terms we wouldn't be able to understand one another. So it is important to find a solution to this problem. Being 100% individualistic doesn't work, neither does being 100% conformant, because that's just memorizing, not understanding. I find it important to understand things in your own conceptual idioms, and then map the knowledge to what is already established. I suspect the opposite may work just as well for certain individuals.

  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting comments, and from my superficial understanding I definitely feel there is truth to this. Consequently, I would be very interested in reading a similar answer which refers to studies or theories of cognition. $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Jul 5 '18 at 9:27
  • $\begingroup$ @StevenJeuris there is type of people to whom, if it is on TV it has to be true, and there is the type of people to whom, if it ain't published and peer-reviewed, it cannot be true. To me the above answer is obvious common sense, but it wasn't always like that. However, as I do identify it as common sense now, I cannot really take credit for it, so anyone willing to research it and publish the findings is more than welcome. I have my own doubts on the academic peer-review process, and a lot of info has surfaced lately to support it, so my way of proving it is determining how applicable it is. $\endgroup$ – dtech Jul 5 '18 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ The thing is, I am certain I have read scientific articles related to, or referencing similar concepts. 🙂 Research on 'mental models' comes to mind. P.s. any researcher worth one's salt would not make the claim that if it isn't peer-reviewed, it cannot be true. That's a logical fallacy. $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Jul 5 '18 at 10:07
  • $\begingroup$ What I meant is people tend to take for granted things that come from a source of presumed legitimacy, even rather crazy and obviously wrong ones, like for example that the whole universe revolves around Earth in an odd spiraling manner. And publicly executing people who disagree in extremely horrific ways for centuries might have to do with that phenomenon in its contemporary form. And sure, research has probably been done, it is a rather important topic after all. $\endgroup$ – dtech Jul 5 '18 at 10:17

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