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Working Memory is More Important Than I.Q. (Here’s How to Improve It)

August 7, 2008

Because working memory is the single most important predictor of learning, some psychologists are calling it the “new I.Q.” Working memory is what allows people to hold and manipulate a few items in their minds.

Like a box, our minds can only hold so much. (Most people can hold 3-5 items in their “mental grocery list”. If there are more, something on the list may be forgotten). The fact that there is a limit involved makes it even more critical to put in the right thing, since irrelevant information clutters up working memory.

In contrast to IQ (which measures vocabulary, mathematical skills, problem solving, spatial ability, and other brain functions), working memory is the pure measure of a child’s potential.

Many people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have problems with working memory. According to Dr. Mel Levin, co-founder of the non-profit institute “All Kinds of Minds”, working memory allows a reader to still remember what was at the beginning of a page when they reach the end.

One young girl, who struggled with working memory problems, reported that it was “as if every time I read a sentence, the one just before just got erased” Dr. Levine suggested the girl buy her schoolbooks, so she could underline key points as needed. He then had her read those points into a digital tape recorder, and play them back to help her remember them even better.

Soon this girl, who used to tell her mother “I’m the stupidest kid in class”, was instead telling people “I’ve got to work on expanding my active working memory.”

While children with poor working memories are often considered lazy or dim, the good news is that many of these underachievers really can improve. A tool developed by Dr. Tracey Allow of Britain’s Durham University helps teachers assess working memory capacity in children as young as 4 years old.

In October of 2008, a 5-day peak mental performance program for adolescents and adults will be held in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Those who attend and participate in this program will be able to significantly improve their working memories, as well as their I.Q. and emotional intelligence.

Bottom Line: If your child appears to be struggling with working memory, help them understand what it is and how it works. And remember—the same strategies that will help a child manage and improve memory (e.g. not putting too many “things in the box”, lifestyle choices that improve cognitive function) can help adults too.

Topics: Health News