Testing my cognition

post by RyanCarey · 2014-02-19T22:30:50.295Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 22 comments



Hi all, I'm doing first quantified self experiment. How does this design sound to you?



20 min sample of tests from Cambridge brain sciences site: spatial span, double trouble, object reasoning, rotations, hampshire tree task, spatial slider.

10 USMLE Rx questions in 11 mins covering neurology, psychiatry, cognitive sciences and epidemiology, randomised from a pool of 400 questions.

Subjective report of cognitive ability from one to ten.

These will be taken daily at noon.



Take nothing for one week.

Take creatine 5g daily for two weeks 

Then take nothing for two weeks


I'm starting with creatine because I'm vegetarian. Then I'll report my findings, re-evaluate value of further experiments and proceed on to some or all of piracetam+choline, Luminosity and dual n-back.


Thoughts on how I can improve this?


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by NoSuchPlace · 2014-02-19T23:13:12.318Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It may be worth looking at gwern's essays on nootropics first, since they has done similar self experiments.

One thing in particular you could consider is looking if you can find something which looks/tastes similar enough to creatine that you can use it as a placebo to blind your self. For example you could get a friend to put the creatine and placebo in different containers, but not tell you which. Then take substance 1 for 2 weeks, then take substance 2 for 2 weeks. Then get your friend to tell you which box contained the creatin (or better yet have them write it down somewhere and then don't look at it.)

Replies from: Nornagest, gwern, TylerJay, RyanCarey
comment by Nornagest · 2014-02-20T00:17:54.675Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This would probably be easier for substances other than creatine; it needs to be taken in pretty large doses (5-10 grams, although some sources recommend an initial phase of up to 25 grams) to be effective, and it has a distinctive taste and odor. Unless you want to be swallowing ten or so 00 gel capsules a day...

Replies from: knb, ThisSpaceAvailable
comment by knb · 2014-02-20T01:51:03.891Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've never noticed a smell or taste to my micronized creatine monohydrate. Maybe because I take it in fruit juice?

Replies from: NoSuchPlace, TylerJay
comment by NoSuchPlace · 2014-02-20T01:58:17.863Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Taking it in fruit juice also solves the "how to make a placebo" problem.

Replies from: knb
comment by knb · 2014-02-21T05:36:10.774Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Creatine doesn't dissolve in water at all, so the placebo would have to be something else that has that property.

comment by TylerJay · 2014-02-21T17:07:49.013Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It really doesn't have a taste or smell at all. I take it in a small amount of water and it's basically just completely tasteless particles suspended in solution but not fully dissolved. You can get creatine caps, but its a pain to swallow enough of them.

comment by ThisSpaceAvailable · 2014-02-20T02:59:55.621Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I take it IV isn't practical?

Although, if Ryan hasn't tasted it before, finding something that also has a distinctive taste is better than nothing. That would be an interesting study to have (maybe someone has already done it): is there a bigger placebo effect if the taste is more distinctive?

comment by gwern · 2014-02-21T17:36:33.928Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Creatine is sufficiently bulky that blinding would be a pain in the ass (you'd need something like 10 OO gel caps a day, although at least creatine is tasteless in my experience), and it's also very cheap; so I'm not sure blinding is entirely justified on a cost-benefit basis. It may be better to just randomize blocks of 2/3 weeks: it won't eliminate the expectancy or other placebo effects, but it does eliminate most of the potential problems. And just randomizing is a heck of a lot easier.

comment by TylerJay · 2014-02-21T17:12:48.833Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Creatine's beneficial effects seem to come from having higher systemic levels of creatine which takes a while to build. I have used it as a supplement many times for weight lifting and the effects (water retention, extra "pump" after a lift, ability to squeak out one more rep, etc.) are not noticeable until you've been taking it for about a week.

Blinding would not work here unless you made a ton of real caps and a ton of placebo caps and separated them. Then, pick one whole batch and take it for 2-3 weeks. This increases the length of time of the experiment dramatically to get any useful data.

Replies from: John_Maxwell_IV
comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-02-21T17:46:15.842Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Out of curiosity, does creatine change the way the muscles you build look? E.g. my impression is that people who use steroids will develop very vascular/veinous muscles.

Replies from: TylerJay, aelephant
comment by TylerJay · 2014-02-21T20:39:36.646Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, not long-term. The vascular/veiny musculature that you see on fitness-mag body builders come from a few things: Taking vasodilators (short acting supplements and drugs that cause dilation of blood vessels) is one. The amino acid Arginine causes an increase in Nitirc Oxide in the blood which is a vasodilator. There are other supplements and drugs that do this as well. Also, having low body fat causes this naturally, as well as just having worked out. The vein-bulging look is not something that these people have all day every day.

Steroids DO actually change the shape of your muscles a bit.

Creatine is believed to work through 2 pathways:

  1. Increasing the rate at which ADP is recycled back to ATP, allowing you to "squeak out one more rep" and hopefully stimulate a better training adaptation when your body recovers.

  2. Increasing water retention in your muscles. Some people believe that the presence of additional water is what helps you perform better and recover more quickly.

While you're supplementing with creatine, it may make your muscles look a little bit bigger because of the additional water retention, but if you let it "wash out" by stopping for a week or two, you will notice no difference in the appearance of your muscles. Creatine is not believed to have an anabolic effect on its own. It's just an aid to training and considered extremely safe.

Replies from: John_Maxwell_IV
comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-02-22T01:45:18.952Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cool, thanks for the info!

comment by aelephant · 2014-02-21T19:08:33.536Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Creatine will make you retain water in the muscles, which will make them look bulkier than they otherwise would.

comment by RyanCarey · 2014-02-20T08:59:18.017Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, gwern's essays are what has motivated me to test these particular agents.

I'm not clear on optimal management of placebo effects. The thing is that placebo effects are still effects. And if knowing that creatine's effect is a placebo will stop me from taking creatine and thereby rob me of its benefits then I would rather be ignorant. So I kind of don't want to test it against a placebo, although I recognise that this feels suspicious. Happy to be clarified on this one.

Of course, the creatine could boos my score by making me redistribute my exertion of mental energy toward testing times, which is useless...

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2014-02-20T03:45:20.943Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can someone please write a song about this - "Testing My Cognition" - to the tune of "Losing My Religion"?

Replies from: philh, Kyre
comment by philh · 2014-02-20T23:35:29.425Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, life
It's bigger
It's bigger than me
And what I can see
The lengths that I will go to
To just hypothesize
Oh no, I test too much
I do not test enough.

Replies from: Alicorn
comment by Alicorn · 2014-02-21T17:36:47.032Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's me in the armchair
That's me in the sample
Testing my cognition
Trying to think fast as you
And I don't know if I can do it
Oh no, I test too much
I do not test enough

I thought that it was placebo
I thought that it worked for me
I think I thought I tested well

Every trial
Of every pill and powder
I'm blinding interventions
Trying to keep the testing neat
Like a researcher, subject, fool, fool
Oh no, I test too much
I do not test enough.

Consider this
Consider the theory of the century
Consider this, the dose
That got me experimenting, failed
What if all these fantasies come
Flailing around
I've tested too much

(repeated verse)

But p's below alpha
P's below alpha

(repeated verses)

comment by Kyre · 2014-02-21T04:48:12.250Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So its not just me that heard "Testing My Cognition" to that tune when I read the post title.

comment by hyporational · 2014-02-20T13:55:17.320Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

20 min sample of tests from Cambridge brain sciences site: spatial span, double trouble, object reasoning, rotations, hampshire tree task, spatial slider.

I observed a significant training effect when I did these. Could be a problem with other tests too.

Replies from: maia
comment by maia · 2014-02-20T15:40:32.735Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The way to handle this is probably to do the tests for a while, plotting the results, wait until they appear to be flatlining, then start the experiment.

comment by aelephant · 2014-02-21T19:09:39.839Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Curious where you got the USMLE questions. Are you able to share them?

comment by lukeprog · 2014-02-20T01:30:19.333Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probably belongs in Open Thread.