We recently learned that playing a memory game may improve your LSAT score.
Researchers have also found that LSAT studying may also make you smarter.
The evidence comes from a recent study in which a group of students who studied for the LSAT for 3 months improved their reasoning abilities far more than those in a control group:
[W]e examined the effects on cognitive performance and brain structure and function of 3 months of intensive preparation for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)... Behavioral and brain imaging data were collected at two time points, spaced 3 months apart, for all participants (N=51). After training, the LSAT group performed more accurately on our transitive inference task...In contrast, controls’ accuracy did not change across the two time points. Surprisingly...three months of reasoning training was sufficient to alter resting-state functional connectivity between left IPL and RLPFC...Our preliminary LSAT study findings...suggest that reasoning training leads to improved reasoning ability through repeated co-‐activation and subsequent strengthening of fronto-parietal connections.
from "Relational reasoning: Neural mechanisms, development, & plasticity" (PDF p7, 9)
Despite the fact they they called it the "Law School Admissions Test" (it's "Admission," damnit!), this study is awesome.
Basically, the researchers found that college kids who intensively studied for the LSAT for 3 months did much better on reasoning tasks than did the control group (college kids who were planning to study for the LSAT but hadn't yet started).
After measuring the kids' brains, they found that those who'd studied for the LSAT had more connections between different parts of their brains than did the control group (note: more connections = good):
In summary, we found that preparation for the LSAT improves performance, boosts parietal activation during a transitive inference task, and alters the white matter pathway connecting prefrontal and parietal cortices.
Structural and Functional Plasticity in a Fronto-Parietal Network with Reasoning Training (PDF p24)
Here are some pictures of brains, as well as the researchers' fancy graph with results:
The researchers write:
The LSAT group, but not the control group, exhibited increased resting-state connectivity between regions of interest (ROIs) in left IPL (seed ROI shown in green) and left RLPFC (seed ROI shown in purple) at time 2. These functionally-defined ROIs were based on peak activations on the transitive inference fMRI test, collapsing across all participants and both time-points.
from "Relational reasoning: Neural mechanisms, development, & plasticity" (PDF p7)
That probably sounds like gibberish to most of you (it did to me, too, at first). Here's what that means in plain English, as I understand it:
The light green spot (in the brain on the left) and the purple spot (in the brain on the right) are the researchers' "regions of interest." They found that the connection between these two brain regions significantly increased in the group that studied for the LSAT (the "trained" group), but not for the control group. This is why the correlation for "Time 2" in the "trained" group is far higher than it is for the control group (those who haven't yet started their LSAT studying).
The bottom line
As if you didn't already know, LSAT studying affects your brain aside from just giving you headaches. It actually makes you smarter.
So, when you're trying to motivate yourself to stop procrastinating, just remind yourself that it'll undo the damage that you did to your brain during college.
After publishing this post, I received the following email from Allyson Mackey, one of the researchers:
Your post on our research on the effects of LSAT preparation was just brought to my attention. Thank you so much for your interest in our research. I wanted to let you know that the evidence you cite is very preliminary since it is not yet published, and I was hoping you could add a caveat to your post to that effect. Also, it is important to note that while preparing for the LSAT may lead to gains in reasoning, it doesn't necessarily improve intelligence in a general way. Our data just support the possibility that reasoning is a teachable and learnable skill. We can let you know when the final publication is available if you're interested.
Structural and Functional Plasticity in a Fronto-Parietal Network with Reasoning Training (PDF p24) [Schedule Overview for Annual Meeting of Cognitive Neuroscience Society]
Relational reasoning: Neural mechanisms, development, & plasticity (PDF p7-9) [Bunge Lab: Building Blocks of Cognition]
Projects [Bunge Lab: Building Blocks of Cognition]
Can playing this memory game improve your LSAT score? [LSAT Blog]
Photo by tza