The Battle for Intelligence
Saturday 1 November, 1.30pm until 3.00pm, Café

Do you train your brain? It has become fashionable to use everything from Sudoko to ‘smart’ foods, to boost your IQ / stave off dementia / maximise your child’s potential. Millions of copies of Nintendo DS brain games are bought in the belief they help ‘activate the prefrontal cortex’. Eating fish is said to ‘speed up brain waves’, and some researchers claim breast-fed babies develop IQs eight points higher than those who are bottle-fed.

This seems to go beyond old wives tales and quackery. Recent scientific advances have begun to map where memories are stored in the brain, and this knowledge has led to the development of drugs (such as modafinil ‘Viagra for the brain’) and other techniques to accelerate learning and improve memory. Neurological insights are also informing education. While the IQ theories of Cyril Burt have been exposed as a sham, new biological theories about intelligence seem acceptable once they use the language of neuroscience. Local authorities are now promoting an exercise programme called Brain Gym in primary schools. Children are being taught special exercises to ‘connect the circuits of the brain’ and ‘unblock neural pathways’. More generally, neuroscience-backed techniques have become mainstream in pedagogy.

But can our brains be trained, or is this simply pseudo-science? Does the new enthusiasm for brain-training simply re-raise the old question about whether intelligence is biologically or socially determined, or is science telling us something qualitatively new? Is there a danger that these new theories naturalise ability and downplay the transformative potential of education? What, if anything, do teachers and others need to know about recent scientific developments? And what about the ethical questions that brain enhancement raises?

Professor Colin Blakemore
professor of neuroscience at the universities of Oxford and Warwick; chair, Neuroscience Research Partnership, Singapore; chair, general advisory committee on science, Food Standards Agency
Nicola Morgan
award-winning novelist for teenagers; author of Blame My Brain and Know Your Brain; chair, Society of Authors in Scotland.
David Perks
founder and principal, East London Science School; director, the Physics Factory
Derek Robertson
national adviser, Emerging Technologies and Learning, Learning and Teaching Scotland; recent projects include, randomised controlled intervention using Brain Training for Nintendo DS across 16 Scottish primary schools.
Toby Marshall
A Level Film Studies Teacher; PhD researcher in sociology of education, UCL Institute of Education

 Produced by
Toby Marshall A Level Film Studies Teacher; PhD researcher in sociology of education, UCL Institute of Education

 Recommended readings
What's the brain got to do with education?

Although current teacher training programmes generally omit the science of how we learn, an overwhelming number of the teachers surveyed felt neuroscience could make an important contribution in key educational areas.

Bristol University Press Release, 29 October 2007

Understanding the Brain: The Birth of a Learning Science

This book provides new insights about learning. It synthesises existing and emerging findings from cognitive and brain science.

OECD, 22 June 2007

Neuroscience and Education: Issues and Opportunities

Explores the scope for our emerging knowledge of the working of the brain to contribute to better educational outcomes, especially for children.

Teaching and Learning Research Programme

What's in a game?

Interview with Derek Robertson on his use of new technologies to enhance students’ maths attainment.


Nicola Morgan's Brain Pages

Section of speaker Nicola Morgan's website that details her writing and research on brain related matters:

Nicola Morgan

Session partners

in association with