Am I Using a Strategy, or is it Normal?

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Nov 12, 2008, 2:50:20 PM11/12/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
I am trying to figure out whether I am employing a strategy, or
whether I am doing it the way I am supposed to. For example, when I
am doing three back and a new position/sound comes up, I "count" three
moves back in my mind to decide whether the newest position/sound

My question is: Should I be attempting to make my decision by
"intuition"? It seems as though I should, but whenever I do, my
scores go down. On the other hand, if I "count" three moves back, I
believe that I am still using my intuition to decide whether the
newest position/sound correlates, but I am just "counting" to move my
mind back to that point.

What does everyone think? I don't actually care about my score; I am
just trying to figure out the best way to make the most cognitive


Nov 13, 2008, 3:28:03 AM11/13/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
I tend to believe that what you are doing is fine, and in fact not
impacting whatever effects the task may produce. Here's why: when you
use this "technique" you are having to shuffle through your memory to
locate the info you need in a short period of time, while also
retaining the info for the other task. That seems like a fairly high
load on your brain. Learning to manage that load is what may be
resulting in positive effects. Furthermore, you will notice that at
higher levels this 'technique' is not as successful. Why is that?
Because the technique may be a product more of the fact that your
brain is comfortable with an n-back level, and is making things
easier. A 'technique' is more just an order which emerges from your
brain once it has gotten used to a task and can handle it. I.E. You
can "count back" precisely because your brain has learned how to
retain each event, as if it were a page in your short term memory.
Try applying this 'technique' at a higher level. I would bet that it
is no longer helps much.

Furthermore, attempting to restrain yourself from using a technique
which your brain naturally favors may just be counterproductive.

But that's just MY intuition.


Nov 14, 2008, 8:45:02 AM11/14/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
I agree. I am not so much worried about score as I am about
exercising the neurons in the circuit, so I can keep my 60 year old
brain remembering where it put the keys, and up to par on my children
who are 10 and 4. I also count back when I am on nback of three, and
it is still easy to wander between trials.
> > progress.- Hide quoted text -
> - Show quoted text -


Nov 14, 2008, 10:38:19 AM11/14/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
I asked a similar question a while back.
What helped me the most I think, was realizing that merely worrying
about strategies messed up my game.
So just forget about strategy and focus on the goal: try to match
whatever the computer throws at you. If you keep focusing on that,
your brain will replace bad, and find new strategies when it needs
them. At least that's my experience.
I probably have different strategies for every n-back level, but I'm
not thinking about them. Sometimes I hear myself reciting a few steps
(not out loud of course :o) and sometimes I just stare at the screen,
the intuitive way, i guess.
Just keep your mind and motivation focused on the goal.


Nov 15, 2008, 10:49:58 AM11/15/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
I only do dual n-back and I'm using a strategy that I'm not sure is
the correct way to do it.

Basically, because I'm a mainly a visual learner and quite a bad
auditory learner, what I do to improve my score is to convert the
letters heard into the picture of the letter which I visualize. This
causes my recall of the sounds to improve but my recall of the
positions to worsen as my visual memory(is that what it's called?) has
to 'retain' twice the information. My worry is that by doing this, my
auditory recall is not going to improve. Any comments?


Nov 15, 2008, 12:08:42 PM11/15/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
Don't use strategies! Even with poor score it is better to do it
without any strategy than with it. Thats my opinion that I have after
hearing what says Susan Jaeggi about this and reading some posts that
I will quote here:

"The challanges are in helping people understand that dual-n-back is
about remembering n number of visual and auditory stimuli. It's about
developing a new mental process that intuitively recognizes when it
has seen
or heard a stimuli n times ago."

"Initially, most students of dual n-back want to remember n items as
fast as
they can so they can conquor the dual-n-back hill. They use their own
already developed techniques to help them remember. They may try to
the images in their head mentally and review them every time a new
image is
added and say the sounds out loud and review the sounds everytime a
sound is added. This is NOT what we want. We want the brain to learn
new process that intuitively recognizes if an item and sound was shown
back or 4 back. It's sort of like playing a new type of musical

I've helped some students on the site try to understand this. It's
about how much you can remember, its about learning a new process. In
theory, this new process translates into a better working memory,
helps you make connections better and faster."


Nov 15, 2008, 12:16:23 PM11/15/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
Would like a link to that quote. Thanks.


Nov 16, 2008, 10:06:27 AM11/16/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
I second that request!

Nick Tzaperas

Nov 16, 2008, 12:47:55 PM11/16/08
Ya, I just started using brainworkshop and just subscribed to this
list last night. I had no idea you weren't supposed to actively try
and remember the last N things you had seen. I did exactly what's
described below, basically concentrating real hard on creating a list
in my head. FYI, the quote is on the brainworkshop site, home page. I
guess I skimmed over it to fast, I missed that part.


Nov 16, 2008, 12:50:00 PM11/16/08
I just added the quote to the web page yesterday after reading it here. I would like a link also!

Nick Tzaperas

Nov 16, 2008, 12:52:02 PM11/16/08
Oh, that would explain how I missed it the first time.
Message has been deleted
Message has been deleted

Gore Lando

Nov 17, 2008, 6:17:47 PM11/17/08
The important thing, I think, as regards how we the community should take this quote, is whether the people training dual-n-back in Professor Jaeggi's study were clearly told in this way to rely only on intuition, immediate memory, and not e.g. rapidly updating a "mental list".

The latter strategy was intuitive for me in that I never really thought of doing it another way ...


Nov 18, 2008, 12:04:05 AM11/18/08
I've been trying to take Jaeggi's advice more seriously and see where it takes me. Even though I'm trying not to use any strategies, I often catch myself subtly rehearsing the positions or quickly running down the list of letters. This has become automatic for me and it takes extra effort and awareness to avoid being taken on these automatic mental loops.

I'm attempting to use the intuitive method by being aware of each new stimulus and trying to listen to my subconscious urges to press A or L. I think of it as trying to make a direct connection between my fingers and the part of my brain that decides whether to respond, bypassing conscious control (although I am still aware of the process). Sometimes my intuitive mind surprises me and I get a response correct that I otherwise would have missed if I were directing myself more consciously. I guess over time the constant feedback will shape the subconscious intuitive process to something capable of performing the task with better accuracy. It just feels kind of strange to not be using the full force of my brain for the task (ie, intense focus on rehearsal and speed of thought). Maybe the more deliberate and intense brain functions are better trained using one of the other modes such as Arithmetic n-back.

It's interesting how the dual n-back task has become a sort of meditation, in the sense that it's a stable background on which to examine my mental processes. Imagine the results if I could hone my mental activity in each waking moment to the same degree as in dual n-back.



Nov 18, 2008, 11:18:42 AM11/18/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence

I agree with putumayo and Jaeggi's remarks that he quotes. So far,
I've successfully made it up to 6-back and I experience the same
problem you are having every time I achieve a new level. Basically,
when I'm doing 3-back I just "know" what was 1 back, 2 back and 3
back. It's as if my brain has a new "sense" of anything within that
range. However, whenever I go up to a new level it's as if my brain
doesn't even "perceive" that many positions back (was that 5 or 6
positions back?)

Although I think you shouldn't use strategies per se, for lack of a
better term here is the "strategy" I use whenever I hit a new level,
knowing my brain cannot comprehend this new level. Right when a
session starts I try to pay really close attention to how many cues
I've been given and whether or not it's time for me to start
responding. I don't *count* them consciously. I just try to note
whether I can perceive the 5th and 6th cues and the fact that the 6th
one was indeed the 6th. You'll notice in the beginning of a new level
your brain simply won't have this perception because there's simply
too many. Sometimes this even results in you trying to respond too
early (you thought this was cue 7 when really it is cue 6). At this
stage in the game if you get any right you're probably either just
getting lucky or using some kind of strategy to get them right.
Eventually however, you'll notice those first 6 (or first 4 or 5)
becoming clearer and clearer and you'll stop wondering whether it's
time to compare the current cue with the very first one. And although
you might still not be able to remember *which* position and letter
occurred n-cues back, you should at least be *perceiving* and
attending to the full range you are trying to remember. I think of it
like *attention* and *perception* rather than memory per se. Am I
attending to the full range and adjusting my attention with each new

Once you perceive the full range, you know you are attending to the
game in the right way.

Does this make sense?


Nov 18, 2008, 12:36:22 PM11/18/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
I think the whole thing is incredible. For such a simple task to
allow us to reflect on the complicated manner which we perform
mentally. There has been a great deal stated about this already, but I
want to describe my experience as well. The state described by most
users, as being in the "flow", or as a meditative state is close to
what I've experienced. For me this happens mostly when I am pushing
myself, and I'm concentrating intensely. While I don't employ a
strategy, I do go back through the steps in order to remember the
correct cue. At lower levels, which I'm already comfortable with, this
happens so quickly I don't realize it. I think there is a zone of
comfort which leads to different states. I am still playing a
balancing act at 4 back, and occasionally reach 5. I find that if I'm
trying too much, I simply muddle the positions in my head and lose
them. This to me, is an amateur attempting something new. What I hope
to gain from this exercise, is to be able to retain the concentrated
state for more difficult tasks.

I'll equate this to myself about 10 years ago. I'm a design student,
and I often have to get up in front of class to present my work. I'm
29, and I can tell you, I'm a much more distracted person now than I
was at 20-21. I used to work a sales job that required a good deal of
impromptu speaking. I can honestly say that myself 10 years ago, would
have kicked my current selfs' butt. I can remember doing a "lecture"
on the sales process with little to no preparation, and the bossman
said it was the best he had seen in a while. Skip to now. I get up in
front of a class of about 30 design students, and I'm nervous. This
leads to muddled thoughts and poor communication, both verbally and
physically. It's strange considering, it is something I'm used to
doing and have somewhat prepared for. Though I think this natural
nervousness just stems from over-thinking, this is something I hope to
relieve with this exercise.

It seems youth has its advantages of clear thinking and confidence.
Yet I am now aware of a lot of things I've said that didn't
necessarily make sense. The purpose for me, is to get back to this
relaxed free flowing state. Except of course to retain my current
awareness and knowledge. I'm not sure if this helps people to
understand the thought process anymore than before, but I thought it
was relevant.

Gore Lando

Nov 18, 2008, 8:27:01 PM11/18/08
p.s. And furthermore, even if they in the study that showed IQ results were told to not use "mental list" techniques (were they?), how hard did Jaeggi work to make them really do that?  Did they actually follow this dictate?

If nothing was said to them in the study, I am inclined to assume that many of them used a mental list?


Nov 19, 2008, 9:57:06 AM11/19/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
I actually find it amazing if someone can do dual-n-back without using
the "strategy" of repeating the last n lists in their heads. Anyone
have any luck doing this and developing a deep intuition for it?

On Nov 18, 5:27 pm, "Gore Lando" <> wrote:
> p.s. And furthermore, even if they in the study that showed IQ results were
> told to not use "mental list" techniques (were they?), how hard did Jaeggi
> work to make them really do that?  Did they actually follow this dictate?
> If nothing was said to them in the study, I am inclined to assume that many
> of them used a mental list?
> On Mon, Nov 17, 2008 at 6:17 PM, Gore Lando <> wrote:
> > The important thing, I think, as regards how we the community should take
> > this quote, is whether the people training dual-n-back in Professor Jaeggi's
> > study were clearly told in this way to rely only on intuition, immediate
> > memory, and not e.g. rapidly updating a "mental list".
> > The *latter* strategy was intuitive for me in that I never really thought
> > of doing it another way ...


Nov 19, 2008, 11:32:17 AM11/19/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence

If I *consciously* make an attempt to repeat the list in my head I
usually lose my concentration and fail to add the new cue to the list,
or in trying to add the new cue to the list, consciously in this
manner, my "repeat the list" strategy fails and I forget. When I'm
not following this strategy it might still be occurring but only
subconsciously, I have no idea. But this latter approach is what I
experience when I'm doing it correctly.

Maybe when researchers on working memory have referred to the
"phonological loop" they are not referring to a conscious attempt at
rehearsal. The successful use of our phonological loops needn't be
noticeable, it may instead be beneath the reach of our conscious

I have read several neuroscientists who discuss that the maturation of
the language facility in childhood starts with with the vocalization
of phonemes and words (audible) and progresses to "sub-vocal
rehearsal" (inaudible but conscious) and finally to "fully covert
vocal rehearsal," (fully subconscious) at which point the person is
able to use language for the purpose of "internally guided behavior."
In addition, even at the second stage where the person is no longer
moving their lips and tongues to create the phonemes of speech, the
motor circuits required to *speak* these phonemes are still being
activated by the pre-frontal cortex even when speech is inaudible or
covert. In other words, there is not a sharp neurological contrast
between speaking language and using it to solve problems silently.
There is rather a *gradient* between speaking, "hearing language in
your head" and using it without evening knowing: a gradient that
reflects the relative maturation (or efficiency) of those language

We use language, in the form of rules, to guide our behavior
throughout every activity we pursue. This doesn't mean of course that
you state the rule "out loud" to yourself as you walk around as a
child might or consciously repeat the rule inside your head, like an
adult learning to play a new game for the first time. It means that
you use "language as rules" --fully subconsciously-- without being
explicitly aware of it occurring. More intelligent people are capable
of using more sophisticated rules for internal guidance, a greater
sophistication which reflects a greater capacity for "working-with-
memory" (some scientists think this is a better description of what's
occurring than "working memory" which may be misleading).

I believe that when we find ourselves consciously following a
"strategy," this is another way of saying that your language circuits
are not yet efficient enough to handle the working memory task at that
load: you are operating at the intermediate level of maturation of
"subvocal rehearsal." So, getting yourself to a higher n-level in this
way wouldn't translate into increased intelligence in real life. In
order to successfully make use of similarly sophisticated strings of
verbal information for internally guided behavior, that difficulty
level needs to be experienced as mostly subconscious.


Nov 19, 2008, 12:33:33 PM11/19/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
Thanks to everyone that responded.

I think the upshot of all the advice is to focus on the exercises in a
broad sense, do not deliberately use a mnemonic or strategy, and let
your brain do the rest.

Message has been deleted


Nov 20, 2008, 12:27:36 AM11/20/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
Thanks for the explanations! I'm gonna give it a try without
memorizing n back. I'm trying to stop my self from repeating the list
in my head and listen to my intuition.

Perhaps the reason dual-n-back increases mental abilities is that it
allows us to develop our intuition. I see this in programming, many
times I may know that there is a bug in a piece of code or have a gut
feeling that a solution will work but when I am forced to explain it
out loud I can't do it.

On Nov 19, 4:48 pm, blank <> wrote:
> From the original research paper by jaeggi -
> articles/jaeggi2008.pdf
> "Operationally, we believe that the gain in Gf emerges because
> of the inherent properties of the training task. The adaptive
> character of the training leads to continual engagement of
> executive processes while only minimally allowing the development
> of automatic processes and task-specific strategies. As
> such, it engages g-related processes (5, 17).
> Furthermore, the particular working memory task we used, the ‘‘dual n-
> back’’ task,
> engages multiple executive processes, including ones required to
> inhibit irrelevant items, ones required to monitor ongoing
> performance,
> ones required to manage two tasks simultaneously,
> and ones required to update representations in memory. In
> addition, it engages binding processes between the items (i.e.,
> squares in spatial positions and consonants) and their temporal
> context (30, 31)."
> she continues ...
> "By this account, one reason
> for having obtained transfer between working memory and
> measures of Gf is that our training procedure may have facilitated
> the ability to control attention. This ability would come
> about because the constant updating of memory representations
> with the presentation of each new stimulus requires the engagement
> of mechanisms to shift attention. Also, our training task
> discourages the development of simple task-specific strategies
> that can proceed in the absence of controlled allocation of
> attention."
> As these point out dual n-back is inherently challenging and difficult
> for our brains.  Perhaps, because the task is so well made to begin
> with, one does not need to worry about using a bad strategy.


Nov 20, 2008, 3:58:40 PM11/20/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
If by intuition you mean working memory, then yes.


Nov 22, 2008, 6:37:41 PM11/22/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
So I've switched stopped using my strategy from memorizing the last n
items and I'm happy to say I'm getting used to it. I believe that
strategy was limiting me from moving beyond dual-5-back. One thing I
do notice now is that sometimes I actually fall asleep while training!
Its almost like I'm in this deep meditative state. Anyone have that
happen to them?


Nov 22, 2008, 7:05:26 PM11/22/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
If you can do dual n-back in your sleep, imagine what you could do
while awake! ;)

DNB can certainly be a relaxing task. Maybe your body is letting you
know about a possible sleep debt?

I try to maintain intense awareness of everything going on in my mind
as well as the visual & auditory cues. This usually serves to keep me


Nov 22, 2008, 10:38:58 PM11/22/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
I dunno.. using a strategy helped me to get from dual-3-back(I started
without having a strategy) to dual-9-back in just 6 sessions of 10-20
times each of using strategy.

The 'strategy' is simply block memorizing, a common method. I memorize
the 9 as 4-4-1, therefore with at any point, I only need to keep 4
things in mind: the first 4, second 4, third 1 and the current 4 as it
Thinking about this, maybe I should try 3-3-3, the 4-4 is continued
from the dual-8-back.


Nov 22, 2008, 11:46:07 PM11/22/08
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence

There is not a 1-1 relation between N back capability and gf
improvement. The key is to push yourself to the best of your ability
(intuitively, per the researchers). If the goal is simply to improve
one's ability to do N back then you are on to something. If, on the
other hand, the goal is to improve gf and working memory, you may be
doing it wrong.

James Burke

Nov 27, 2013, 12:50:48 AM11/27/13

I had a very serious anoxic brain injury from twenty years ago. I've been playing Brain Workshop's version of Dual (N) Back for approximately two weeks now. My visual score has increased from less then 1 to about 2.75, and my audio has increased from about 2.25 to about 3.75. These scores would be laughable, but following my injury my cognitive therapist told me that my short term memory would 'never' return. My injury changes from day to day, and unfortunately I cannot remember the strategy that I've learned, to remember the moves. 3 days ago my audio was great, and two days ago my visual was pretty good, but I can't seem to keep them both high at the same time. Brain Workshop keeps a graph of your audio & visual progress, on a graph, but unfortunately only separately. I'm fairly sure that the average of the two graphs shows that I am improving, but I wish it would also graph my average score. Does anyone know of a free Dual (N) App, that will also track the average of your audio & visual progress. I understand that the best way to play dual (N) Back is by not trying to use strategies, and rather to just use intuitive memory. Unfortunately my short term intuitive memory is absolutely shot, and by trying to use strategies, at least I am building up my problem solving abilities, plus eventually hopefully also my intuitive memory. I am beginning to think that even when someone uses so called intuition correctly, it is just the brain actually using remembering strategies, but at a speeded up pace. I mean I used a strategy to get by 2 back, and now it happens intuitively. Any thoughts on this? 
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