Interview: Patricia Marx, Author Of 'Let's Be Less Stupid' The first woman to write for The Harvard Lampoon, now a New Yorker staffer, Marx still felt like she was getting forgetful with age. So, she put her head to work, doing every brain game she could.
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Fearing Her Mind's Decline, Patricia Marx Scrambles To Get 'Less Stupid'

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Fearing Her Mind's Decline, Patricia Marx Scrambles To Get 'Less Stupid'

Fearing Her Mind's Decline, Patricia Marx Scrambles To Get 'Less Stupid'

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Patricia Marx feels like she's getting stupider.

PATRICIA MARX: Baby boomers worry about losing their mind more than dying, and I'm one of them.

RATH: So the former "Saturday Night Live" and New Yorker writer tried every brain game out there. Her new book is "Let's Be Less Stupid: An Attempt To Maintain My Mental Faculties." I asked her why.

MARX: I would say terror. There were just so many moments of what's that thing that you put the thing in? It's not the thing that, you know, that - what is it called? So I was really worried that it meant in a matter of days, you know, I was going to need a caregiver, and the caregiver was going to find the butter dish in my sock drawer.

RATH: And before you embarked on your intellectual improvement, your brain-improvement regimen, you underwent some tests to establish a baseline of your abilities. Can you tell us about the tests...

MARX: I did.

RATH: ...You went through?

MARX: Well, first, I took some online - free online IQ tests. And I took the test, and I thought well, I'm pretty smart. I think my mother's right. I really am pretty smart. These aren't very hard. And then I get the results, and it's 74 - 74 - that's, like, you'd have to be trained on how to scratch your arm if you have an IQ of 74. You know, you are - have to get assistance to tie your shoes. So it turns out that it was a timed test. I thought it was - you had the whole day, so I voted for the mayor in that time. I did a lot of things, so really I did deserve that 74. And I had my brain imaged, and I did that before and after my get-smart program.

RATH: And then you decided to - with your get smart program, you decided to dive in with a kind of all-of-the-above approach to improving your brain.

MARX: I did pretty much everything I could stand that was recommended. I learned Cherokee. I zapped electricity into my brain. I learned piano scales. I meditated. I did take fish oil, but fish oil's sort of on the outs right now, and I did the brain exercises all the time.

RATH: Now, that's a - there's a big industry now of brain improvement. These are sites like - things like Luminosity and stuff like that. Is that what you're talking about?

MARX: Yes. Everybody says Luminosity - if there's one thing that I learned doing four months of Lumosity almost 24 hours a day is that it's called Lumosity.

RATH: Sorry (laughter).

MARX: It's OK, everyone does it. They should change their name when they get smarter. Everything I did, I got better at. The controversy is whether or not there's a ripple effect, you know, so that you actually get smarter.

RATH: Could you debunk for us some of the biggest, but most kind of persistent myths about brain improvement?

MARX: We can play a little game.

RATH: Sure.

MARX: I'm going to give you a list, and you can say that's really a real thing that they tell you to do or that I made it up. All right, write backward with your weaker hand.

RATH: I'm going to say, yes, that does help your brain.

MARX: That is true. In a way, everything should help your brain because everything that you do makes new neural networks and that's sort of changing your brain. Helping is another story. Make your bed using the flat sheet for the fitted sheet and vice versa.

RATH: That just sounds kind of silly, no.

MARX: Yeah, that's bull. Don't step on the sidewalk cracks for an entire day.

RATH: I would say no, that also seems...

MARX: Yeah. Eat dinner under the table.

RATH: I would say no, that's not going to help.

MARX: Right. Donate one-third of your clothes to charity.

RATH: No?

MARX: You're right, and you're right.

RATH: (Laughter).

MARX: Make a pineapple upside-down cake right-side up.

RATH: (Laughter) That sounds like something that Patricia Marx would make up.

MARX: You're right.

RATH: (Laughter) So I know how this ends, but I'm wondering are you willing to spoil the end of this for the audience? Tell us about the results of your evaluation after your brain-training regimen.

MARX: Of course not, of course not.

RATH: (Laughter).

MARX: But you can go straight to page 183 and find out if I got smarter or dumber. I will say - well, I'm not going to give it away - but not one of my friends has said stuff like God, you calculated the tip at that restaurant so well. You never did that before.

RATH: Right.

MARX: That doesn't mean I haven't gotten smarter.

RATH: Patricia Marx's new book is "Let's Be Less Stupid: An Attempt To Maintain My Mental Faculties." Patricia, thank you very much.

MARX: Thank you.

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