Strengthening Human Adaptive Reasoning and Problem-solving (SHARP)

This Request for Information is issued to solicit information relevant to a possible future IARPA investment. Respondents are invited to provide comments on the content of this announcement to include suggestions for improving the scope of a possible solicitation to ensure that every effort is made to adequately address the scientific and technical challenges described below. Responses to this request may be used to support the development of, and subsequently be incorporated within, a future IARPA solicitation and therefore must be available for unrestricted public distribution. Neither proprietary nor classified concepts or information should be included in the responses. The following sections of this announcement contain details of the scope of technical efforts of interest, along with instructions for the submission of responses.

Background and Scope

Improving human reasoning and problem-solving skills would have significant benefits for intelligence analysis and for society in general. Recent research1 suggests that improving these skills in healthy, high-performing adults may be possible; but research remains limited in scope, with equivocal results.2 Additionally, there are methodological and practical shortcomings that may limit the relevance of current research for the Intelligence Community. Such limitations include:

  • Few studies using healthy, high-performing adults as subjects
  • Difficulty comparing results across studies due to inconsistent use of dependent variables
  • Experimental studies that do not include sufficient and appropriate control groups
  • Limited efforts to assess and model changes in neurophysiological mechanisms, structures, and functions that may underlie improvements in reasoning and problem-solving

IARPA is soliciting responses to this RFI in order to assess the breadth and scope of possible evidence-based interventions, tools, and/or metrics that could be used to significantly improve adaptive reasoning and problem-solving in healthy, high-performing adults.

This RFI invites interested parties to respond with ideas, approaches, and/or examples of data – to include negative findings or failures to replicate results - that can address the following questions:

  1. What intervention or combinations of interventions would you propose to strengthen adaptive reasoning and problem-solving in healthy, high-performing adults? Proposed approaches should be limited to those that would receive Institutional Review Board approval and must have sufficient support for safety and ethicality. Responses should also note any documented negative findings or failures to replicate positive effects of previous approaches, and should specifically address why the current proposed approach(es) are likely to overcome those limitations.
  2. What are the practical requirements for such an intervention (time, engagement, etc.)?
  3. What are the expected effect sizes on standard measures of adaptive reasoning and problem-solving ability [with references to specific tests]?
  4. Which psychological, behavioral, neural and/or physiological mechanisms would explain how those interventions are effective? What objective adaptive reasoning and problem-solving measures could be used to assess and validate a significant improvement or null effect in a test population? What evidence supports those measures as valid, reliable and/or predictive of real world performance in cognitively complex environments?
  5. How might a specific intervention or combinations of interventions be tailored for different kinds of groups of healthy, high-performing adults, and based on what principle(s)? How might one predict in advance who will be likely respond to which intervention(s), and why?

Interested parties should identify which of the above questions they are addressing in their submission. Submissions may address one, some, or all of the questions. The responses to this RFI may be used to help in the identification of promising areas for investment through vehicles like seedlings, grand challenges, and programs, as well as in the planning of an agenda and participant list for a potential workshop on strengthening adaptive reasoning and problem-solving. If appropriate, a separate workshop announcement may be posted at a later date with additional details.

Preparation Instructions to Respondents

IARPA solicits respondents to submit ideas related to this topic for use by the Government in formulating a potential IARPA investment (such as a program, seedlings, or a Grand Challenge). IARPA requests that submittals briefly and clearly describe the potential approach or concept, outline critical technical issues, and comment on the expected performance, robustness, and estimated cost of the proposed approach. This announcement contains all of the information required to submit a response. No additional forms, kits, or other materials are needed.

IARPA appreciates responses from all capable and qualified sources from within and outside of the U.S. Because IARPA is interested in an integrated approach, responses from teams with complementary areas of expertise are encouraged. Responses have the following formatting requirements:

  1. A one page cover sheet that identifies the title, organization(s), respondent's technical and administrative points of contact - including names, addresses, phone and fax numbers, and email addresses of all co-authors, and clearly indicating its association with IARPA-RFI-12-04;
  2. A single overview briefing chart (limited to 1 page, not including cover sheet and references) graphically depicting the key ideas and a written description addressing one or more of the key questions above (limited to 2 pages, not including cover sheet and references, in minimum 12 point Times New Roman font, appropriate for single-sided, single-spaced 8.5 by 11 inch paper, with 1-inch margins);
  3. An attached list of citations (any significant claims or reports of success must be accompanied by citations, and reference material MUST be attached);

Disclaimers and Important Notes

This is an RFI issued solely for information and new investment planning purposes and does not constitute a solicitation. Respondents are advised that IARPA is under no obligation to acknowledge receipt of the information received, or provide feedback to respondents with respect to any information submitted under this RFI.

Responses to this notice are not offers and cannot be accepted by the Government to form a binding contract. Respondents are solely responsible for all expenses associated with responding to this RFI. It is the respondents' responsibility to ensure that the submitted material has been approved for public release by the organization that funded or sponsored the referenced research.

The Government does not intend to award a contract on the basis of this RFI or to otherwise pay for the information solicited, nor is the Government obligated to issue a solicitation based on responses received. Neither proprietary nor classified concepts or information should be included in the submittal. Input on technical aspects of the responses may be solicited by IARPA from non-Government consultants/experts who are bound by appropriate non-disclosure requirements.


1Cerruti, C., & Schlaug, G. (2009) Anodal transcranial direct current stimulation of the prefrontal cortex enhances complex verbal associative thought. J Cogn Neurosci. 21(10): 1980–1987.
Duncan, J., Schramm, M., Thompson, R. (2012) Task rules, working memory, and fluid intelligence. Psychon Bull Rev. Advance online publication. Doi: 10.3758/s13423-012-0225-y.
Jaeggi, S.M., Buschkuehl, M., Jonides, J., Perrig, W.J. (2008) Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 105(19), 6829-6833.
Lau, H., Alger, S.E., Fishbein, W. (2011) Relational Memory: A Daytime Nap Facilitates the Abstraction of General Concepts. PLoS ONE. 6(11): e27139. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027139.
Mackey AP, Whitaker KJ and Bunge SA (2012) Experience-dependent plasticity in white matter microstructure: reasoning training alters structural connectivity. Front. Neuroanat. 6(32). doi: 10.3389/fnana.2012.00032.

2Redick, T. S., Shipstead, Z., Harrison, T. L., Hicks, K. L., Fried, D. E., Hambrick, D. Z., Kane, M. J., & Engle, R. W. (2012). No evidence of intelligence improvement after working memory training: A randomized, placebo-controlled study. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029082.
Melby-Lervåg, M., & Hulme, C. (2012). Is Working Memory Training Effective? A Meta-Analytic Review. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/a0028228

For information contact:


Posted Date: September 21, 2012
Responses Due: October 19, 2012