Fluid Intelligence = Executive Processes

What Are The Executive Processes?

IQ Mindware’s gated dual n-back training combines working memory training with attention training. This combination is called executive process training.

Executive processes — when they are applied to complex, novel problems — can be understood as our fluid intelligence (Gf). Fluid intelligence is a very good index of general intelligence (g).

In this tutorial I will define what exactly these executive processes are, enabling us to start thinking about when we are making use of them in our day-to-day cognitive activities, particularly challenging ones — a difficult decision, a tough problem, something you’re trying to figure out and explain.

We will also see some of them in action in a cartoon showing someone trying to figure out a programming problem.

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The 8 Executive Processes Wheel

Workspace Focus

  • Focusing on a cognitive task, ignoring distractions and information that is not relevant, and staying ‘on-task’ to see it through to completion. (Such tasks include problem solving, decision-making, planning, new learning, comprehending,, test-taking and so on.)
  • Using your working memory — to be understood as a mental workspace with limited capacity to process information — to succeed with your cognitive task.
  • ​​​​​​​The more working memory capacity (WMC) you have the better you can focus, the more effectively you can deploy the functions defined below.

Updating & Workflow

  • Replacing or updating information in your mental workspace.
  • Thinking things through — updating what is the focus of attention and on your mind, as you work through a problem space.
  • Reasoning, doing calculations, imagining scenarios & making connections.

Attention Shifting

  • Being able to flexibly shift or divide your attention to relevant information as you work on a task.
  • Being able to ‘hold your place’ in the process of thinking something through.
  • Coordinating between sub-tasks in the overall task.
  • Monitoring for new relevant information.

Workspace Erasing

  • Being able to erase no-longer-relevant information from your mental workspace that was previously the focus of your attention.
  • Dropping ‘branches’ of the problem space you have decided against as — e.g. hypothesis or options that you rule out and not backtracking in your train of thought.
  • Freeing up your working memory (mental workspace) capacity by removing the clutter!

Inhibition & Self-Control

  • Not being reactive or automatic in your thinking, behaving or emotions, but having the mental space to think through options.
  • To resist repeating old thought patterns and to recombine ideas and facts in new, creative ways.
  • Overcoming impulses, aversions, addictions or bad habits.

Without inhibitory control we would be at the mercy of impulses, old habits of thought or action (conditioned responses), and/or stimuli in the environment that pull us this way or that. Thus, inhibitory control makes it possible for us to change and for us to choose how we react and how we behave rather than being unthinking creatures of habit. It doesn’t make it easy. Indeed, we usually are creatures of habit and our behavior is under the control of environmental stimuli far more than we usually realize, but having the ability to exercise inhibitory control creates the possibility of change and choice.” A. Diamond, 2013.

Workflow Output

  • Being able to reach conclusions or decisions, or abstract new concepts or rules, from the information and workflow in your mental workspace.
  • This kind of selection ability can function to open gateways to new regions of a problem space you may be trying to navigate through- for example by drawing a conclusion that completes a sub-task in the overall task.

Set Switching

  • Being able to multitask, switching cleanly from one task to another or one goal to another and resetting your mental workspace.
  • Changing how we think about something (‘thinking outside the box’) — e.g. if one way of solving a problem isn’t working, can we come up with a new way of attacking this or conceiving of this that hadn’t been considered before.

Mindware Strategies

  • Using rules, strategies, and principles to guide the information processing (thinking or learning, decision-making, etc) you do in your mental workspace. For example, you may apply a logical or mathematical rules you already know or have just been told to figure out a maths problem, or apply your own rules-of-thumb such as ‘wait for at least an hour before making an important purchasing decision’.

The Wheel’s Color Coding

The blue colored executive processes in the wheel are more ‘top-down’ attention control and workspace-maintenance related, while the red colored executive processes are more workspace transformation (working things through) and fluid intelligence related.

All these executive functions are trained with IQ Mindware’s gated DNB apps.

The Wheel’s Long Term Memory Ring

Working memory is a short term memory system — its contents only last for a short period of time, just seconds and minutes.

The wheel diagram above also shows our long-term memory in a surrounding ring- our hardwired memories, knowledge and skills — that we draw from we use our working memory and executive processes to achieve some cognitive task. Your perceptions, thinking and decision-making are all informed by what you know already- sometimes called your crystallized intelligence.

Random Guy On-Task — Then Off-Task!

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Here is something that may give you a better sense of the executive processes in action — a guy working through a programming task where you can see the contents of his mental workspace (working memory) unfolding as he works through a problem space, until…

Practical Exercise for Your IQ

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Now you have the key, try to use your ‘meta-awareness’ skills (where you observe your own thought processes) to identify when you are using these 8 executive processes — for example when you are trying to make a decision or solve a problem, or think something through.

The more you are able to do this — and distinguish in your own mind the different functions — the more you can start to work on your weaknesses, and the more rapidly your IQ Mindware training will transfer to your day-to-day cognition.

This was written by Mark Ashton Smith, Ph.D. and originally published on his excellent newsletter for IQ Mindware.

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Adventuring philosopher, Pompous pontificator, Writer, K-Selected Biohacker, Tantric husband, Raconteur & Smart Drug Dealer 🇺🇸

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