Why Dual N-Back is the only brain training app worth using…
Biohacker Review of Dual N-Back Pro, the next level evolution of the N-Back task that is demonstrated to have transfer effects to short term memory and essential cognitive tasks outside of brain training.
I’ve done brain training for 3 years now and this app is significantly more challenging than anything I’ve tried before. In HighIQPro my best performance was 7-back and I regularly trained in the 5-back range and sometimes even higher. Yet right now I’m doing the emotional n-back training mode and I’m finding that I can barely make it to 5-back.
Is quite an exercise for your focus muscles. You need to keep track of two pieces of data simultaneously, the position of block/face and the color of the word, while simultaneously ignoring the emotional information; the face itself and the word itself.
The purpose of this is to become a robust gangster at life, or in more scientific terms to reduce emotional reactivity, from a 2014 study of 97 human subjects:
Compared with controls, subjects who underwent [working memory training] showed reduced anger, fatigue, and depression. Furthermore, [working memory training] reduced activity in the left posterior insula during tasks evoking negative emotion, which was related to anger. It also reduced activity in the left frontoparietal area. These findings show that [working memory training] can reduce negative mood and provide new insight into the clinical applications of [working memory training]
Working memory training improves emotional states of healthy individuals
Working memory (WM) capacity is associated with various emotional aspects, including states of depression and stress…
A 2015 paper published in the journal NeuroImage concluded that working memory training has a positive effect on anxiety as a result of how it recalibrates our automatic emotional responses:
Our results showed that …training related gains were associated with lower levels of trait anxiety at post (vs pre) intervention. Our results demonstrate that adaptive working memory training in anxiety can have beneficial effects on attentional control and cognitive performance that may protect against emotional vulnerability in individuals at risk of developing clinical anxiety.
Using executive control training to suppress amygdala reactivity to aversive information …
The ability to regulate emotions is essential for adaptive behavior. This ability is suggested to be mediated by the…
Now there are certainly times in life when it’s beneficial to ignore emotional data, but in general, we want to be more empathic right? Certainly, most of the geeks that are going to be using brain training software could probably benefit from being more emotionally empathic.
Would it be equally beneficial to include a mode that focused on recording the emotional data?
The other day someone asked me if my product Caballo would help Biohack empathy; not really. I’ll say the same for this brain training. I think Dual N-Back has overall had a pretty neutral effect on my empathy although it’s been good for my emotional life in that I’m able to more consciously ignore negative influences.
The Fronto-Parietal Cortex
A recent placebo-controlled study of 34 human participants published in The Journal of Neuroscience draws the connection between brain training and effectively Biohacking the prefrontal cortex (PFC)
Humans vary enormously in their ability to keep a cool head in emotionally charged situations. The capacity to remain goal-focused when selecting and executing behavioral plans in the face of affectively salient distraction is a marker of success across the spectrum of human endeavor, from vocational and academic achievement to well-being… recent advances in cognitive neuroscience suggest that enhancement of affective cognitive control may be achievable via targeted computerized training… The key to this potential stems from research indicating that affective cognitive control relies to a great extent on the same frontoparietal [cortex]… which is fundamentally involved in the performance of well-established working memory (WM) tasks
Training the Emotional Brain: Improving Affective Control through Emotional Working Memory Training
Affective cognitive control capacity (e.g., the ability to regulate emotions or manipulate emotional material in the…
Researchers from Harvard, Stanford, and MIT collaborated in a 2016 fMRI study of healthy adults which suggested Dual N-Back is a true neuroplasticity hack that increases the density of gray matter within 20 days of consistent training.
Working memory is central to human cognition, and intensive cognitive training has been shown to expand working memory capacity in a given domain… Training resulted in substantial and task-specific expansion of dual n-back abilities accompanied by changes in the relationship between working memory load and activation… These results provide insight into the adaptive neural systems that underlie large gains in working memory capacity through training.
Intensive Working Memory Training Produces Functional Changes in Large-scale Frontoparietal…
J Cogn Neurosci. 2016 Apr;28(4):575–88. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00916. Epub 2016 Jan 7. Research Support, N.I.H.…
About the Functionality of the App
The aesthetics are a major upgrade from other n-back apps I’ve used that to me always felt really amateurish and clunky whereas the UI of this app is pretty comparable with, say Lumosity. The sounds and animations when you mismatch are pretty jarring — it really ups the attentional resilience challenge of the game.
It does sync in between Android, iPhone, and PC/Mac.
It has all these gamification and multi-player features which work through Facebook, you can challenge your friends to a brain training tournament or you can play your friends one-on-one to win the in-game credits. You’re welcome to challenge me to a Dual N-Back duel in the App. You’ll need to…
- Connect your Facebook account to the app
- Friend request me here https://www.facebook.com/jonathanroseland (Send me a FB message mentioning Dual N-Back, otherwise I may ignore your friend request, I get A LOT)
- Invite me to play with you.
I did have to deduct one star from my review because of a bug with the sound. The app requires that you connect either via wifi or data to play the game on your phone and often I’ll receive a text or a notification during the brain training session — not only does this distract my focus (adding to the mindfulness challenge?) but on my Samsung Galaxy S5 it breaks the sound from working during the session after I receive the notification. Which isn’t a huge issue because usually, I use the emotional N-Back training mode which doesn’t actually require the app’s sounds. To get the sounds back I have to exit the session and restart the app to get the sound back. Luckily the app saves your progress and scores in the session if you exit and then return so it’s not like my brain training session is completely ruined if I receive notification during it. But it’s still kind of an annoying bug, I have the same problem with my meditation app — you would think that the developers of these apps could make them capable of blocking notifications of other apps because I’d really prefer to just be completely unmolested by beeping, ringing and chiming notifications during the 10–30 minutes I devote daily to mindfulness. I suppose I could just go totally old school, put my smartphone away and stare at a flickering candle flame instead.
Dual N-Back a Gateway Drug to Mindfulness
I recall about 5 years ago after reading some personal development book trying unsuccessfully both positive self-hypnosis audio programs and meditation. In the hypnosis audio programs, they would walk you through what was supposed to be stages of relaxation (you’re lying on a beach, watching the surf come in and go out) and then there’s a stage where you are supposed to go unconscious (you’re getting very tired) and then the guy in the audio program tells you some nice things (you’re a confident person) while you are supposed to be unconscious. But my problem was that I was never unconscious, my mind was always way too active and I’d get really self-critical. Same thing with meditation. Eventually, I concluded, this is just not for me.
Then, luckily, I found Dual N-Back which trained my focus muscles, it trained me to emotionally compartmentalize, it improved my attentional control. I tried meditation again and found it still challenging but refreshing and enjoyable, now I meditate pretty consistently 20 minutes daily.
Mindfulness meditation for Jonathan Roseland
Coach.me is a coach that goes everywhere with you, helping you achieve any goal, change any habit, or build any…
I encourage everyone who wants to habituate mindfulness to do Dual N-Back before starting a meditation practice.
Fighting Terrorism with Dual N-Back
I’ll admit that recently I found myself transfixed by the breaking news reports of one of these horrific Jihadist terrorist attacks, that are becoming so common. As I did my work I streamed the news and commentary about the attack on my second screen — which is a really bad idea. I should know better but there’s something very seductive about truly morbid breaking news, that’s really hard to turn away from. After at least 5 hours of binging on the reality disaster porn, while working alone on my computer, I actually had a party to go to with friends, not exactly a recipe for getting into a social mood right?
While I took a shower I just couldn’t seem to get my mind off the morbid events of the day yet I ended up going to the party, having a great time and awoke the next day feeling quite refreshed and optimistic about life.
Here’s the process I followed to transform my mood:
- I did 10 minutes of brain training with Dual N-Back Pro
- I did some apeing for about 2 minutes in the bathroom — pretended to be an ape
- I did some light stretching and some push-ups
- I put just a little more care in my appearance before going out (ironed my shirt, flossed, wiped down my shoes, shined my watch)
- I listened to some fun Reggaeton songs
- I did about 500 milligrams of Phenibut
- Then I met a wingman and instead of discussing the sad news or work I made it a point to just banter and joke for about 10 minutes before entering the party.
At the party, I enjoyed myself and everyone else and didn’t mentally return to the unfortunate global event of the day until someone else actually brought it up.
Usually, I do 20 minutes of meditation to reset my mood but when I’m a little short on time 10 minutes of Dual N-Back almost seems to have the exact same effect.
It’s not an instant satisfaction Biohack, I would say that it takes from several weeks to a month to notice any transfer effects to your life outside of brain training.
It’s a little bit hard for me to say that Dual n-back training has…
- Improved my memory
- Given me more discipline
- Made me better at problem-solving
Because concurrently I am doing so many other Biohacks to accomplish these things.
For me the most noticeable benefit is…
The other day I was at a cafe in Spain and I had a really nice conversation and rapport with the cute barista. Then I noticed a few minutes later that she was sitting at a table touching the arm of some guy and more importantly I noticed this little pang of jealousy that this stimulated but almost immediately I caught that thought and was like — that’s totally irrational to be jealous of this really friendly barista touching someone’s arm!
Short term memory
For me, the most noticeable effect of training working memory is on my web development work. Web development is a consummate challenge for the working memory, you have at least several different CSS, PHP and HTML files you are switching between editing, while reading documentation, instructions or conjecture on how to do so, I’m exchanging emails with other developers, while constantly checking the front end of the site to see if it is outputting what it’s supposed to. A website is a grand formula and a developer or programmer is at any given time mentally juggling like 5–10 variables in that formula which they are manipulating to try to produce the desired result.
I’ll notice that if I cycle off dual n-back training or are not very consistent with it I will get lost mentally more often in the middle of a web development task, I’ll drop one of the variables I’m juggling. I’ll need to kind of start from the top, refer back to my Evernote project management file of what I’m actually working on.
However, if I’m brain training really consistently I’m more able to stay in the zone. Manage all the variables continually, which results in me getting things done a whole lot faster.
Like one time I noticed that I put a piece of CSS code into a PHP file, which is kind of a rookie mistake and obviously didn’t produce the output desired, I won’t make that kind of mistake if I’m brain training consistently.
I was at a party in a friend’s penthouse and I asked for their wifi password and it was one of those long complicated passwords and then about 45 minutes later someone else asked for the wifi password and I was able to tell them just from memory. Everyone was pretty impressed.
You’ll be better at remembering people’s names who you’ve just met at a party.
I’ve been traveling and living abroad for 5 years, most of that time during which I’ve been using Dual N-Back software and I’ve never lost my room keys. Which I think is pretty good!