No Evidence that “Brain-Training” Games Work to Improve Concentration or Memory

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A number of the country’s top scientists have concluded in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest that “brain-training” programs like Lumosity have not been shown to work.  They say in their paper that “there does not yet appear to be sufficient evidence to justify the claim that brain training is an effective tool for enhancing real-world cognition.”  You may remember the Federal Trade Commission punishing brain training company Lumosity with a fine of nearly $2 million dollars for false claims about the effectiveness of their product and a failure to provide supporting evidence.

The take away of the paper is that while these sorts of online games and programs can help you improve at the games themselves, this has not been shown to translate to real world improvement.  While it is true that there are some examples “brain-training” success stories like driving simulators helping with actual driving, this is a far cry from what has been promised from a number of these training programs.  The public should be wary of any sort of program that does not provide peer-reviewed evidence for their product.

Does Brain Training Work?

Does Brain Training Help?
Does Brain Training Help?

There is an interesting article in The Economist this week about brain training software like Lumosity and Neurosky.  I feel like I have some perspective on both products, having presented at the “Cool Products Expo” with Neurosky multiple times and having received my PhD from Stanford, unlike the Lumosity cofounder who dropped out halfway through 🙂

For those unfamiliar, both companies attempt to improve cognitive performance using technology, but do so in vastly different ways.  Lumosity uses online games to improve performance with matching games (like the old-school memory card game), speed games and some basic math games.  They figure that doing these games will keep your mind sharp, kind of like doing a daily crossword puzzle.  Neurosky is much more innovative, using brain wave sensing technology to “train your brain”.  They sell a headband that basically tells if you’re in a focused or relaxed state and then give you direct feedback.  I’m not sure if it’s really meant to improve real life performance, but using “The Force” in their Starwars game by concentrating on rock to make it explode is really cool!

Both companies have been very successful and with the current market for brain training estimated at $1 billion, there are a lot of reasons to pay attention.  The big question is do these systems work.  While your score might be improving on the “memory matrix” game, does this translate into having better memory for names at a party?  The jury is still out.

My opinion is that brain-training probably helps a little bit.  Maybe not on the scale seen with Think Gum, where a greater than 25% increase in memory was seen in a real world situation, but a little bit.  I’d be very curious to test people chewing Think Gum using both modalities and see if the Think Gum chewers out perform their peers.