Do “Brain-Training” Programs Work?

I remember when the first brain training game arrived on the Nintendo DS ‘Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training; How Old is your Brain?’ and watched my mother sit night after night painstakingly playing these short games in the hopes of improving her ‘brain age’, which was originally estimated at 15 older than her natural age. I even went through a phase of playing it even though I would get incredibly frustrated with these kinds of games that portrayed mental arithmetic as ‘fun’.

Even recently installing the Lumosity application to fulfill commuting time on the tube; feeling like I’m doing something productive with this spare time in the aid of training the muscle that is my brain. I have never really been into computer games, getting caught up in fads once in awhile but never getting addicted or evening past level 1, I would always lose focus, get bored and move on. But with the promise of ‘improving my brain age’ I’ve invested my time and money along with many others.

But is there any real proof that these games deliver the results that they claim? Scientists seem complete divided on the topic, with very strong arguments for and against.


What do Brain-Training games claim?

To look into their claims and research in more detail, the ‘Brain Training’ DS games content manuel establishes some of the functions of the prefrontal cortex as the ‘command centre’ of the brain and that this will be the focus area of the brain that will be enhanced by playing the DS game, illustrated below.

Other popular brands such a Lumosity claim on their website an effort to recognise where they stand in the current findings; ‘Our scientists had 4,715 participants complete the study. Half trained with Lumosity, while the rest did online crossword puzzles to control for placebo effects’ and ‘After 10 weeks, the Lumosity group improved more than the crosswords group on an aggregate assessment of cognition.’ and go on to make an realistic statement about how these findings can go on to improve cognitive function on tasks outside of these games ‘These results are promising, but we need to do more research to determine the connection between improved assessment scores and everyday tasks in participants’ lives. That’s our next focus.’


A new study found….

An article published with the title of this article by Simons et al. found extensive evidence that brain-training interventions improve performance on the trained tasks, less evidence that such interventions improve performance on closely related tasks, and little evidence that training enhances performance on distantly related tasks or that training improves everyday cognitive performance.  

They also found that; ‘…many of the published intervention studies had major shortcomings in design or analysis that preclude definitive conclusions about the efficacy of training, and that none of the cited studies conformed to all of the best practices we identify as essential to drawing clear conclusions about the benefits of brain training for everyday activities.’


Therefore should marketers and sales teams of gaming companies be making false claims in order to induce sales volumes sold or should the onus be on the regulatory bodies to establish if enough scientific research has been conducted before sold on the consumer market?

This question not only applies to the topic in question but it seems to all industries; should barriers to entry and the quality of goods be higher for everyone, putting the consumer and environment first, not businesses.


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