Does Brain Training Really Work?
By Kate Gardner
I have three apps on my phone that promise, in some way or another, to "strengthen" my brain. After installing each of them, I dutifully logged in every day to play the games, all the while waiting to see if my brain would indeed get "stronger." Mostly, I was hoping to improve my short-term memory so I could remember where I put my phone. Spoiler alert: They didn't seem to help. And after reading Psychology Today's article, "Do Brain-Changing Games Really Work?" I'm wondering if I should delete them.
What are brain-training games? These are games or apps that claim to be able to improve various parts of cognition, like memory, thinking, and understanding. These games may be based on psychological and neurological research, which is a good thing. But the makers of these games often make these claims based on the underlying research and not on the actual games themselves. In fact, Lumosity (arguably one of the better known brain-training games) had to pay $2 million in fines for making false claims about what their games could do.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania wanted to see if brain-training games could have an impact on cognition and decision-making skills. They recruited 128 young adults. Half of the study participants played Lumosity games while the other half played internet games that didn't claim to have any impact on the brain and cognition. Afterward, they found that the group that played brain-training games did no better on measures of cognition than did the group that played regular games.
As the study's authors point out, this is one study and all studies have their limitations. This study only examined the games released by Lumosity and there are a number of other companies that create these sorts of games, too. In order to say brain-training games are a waste of time, each of them would need to be evaluated. It may also be possible that these games can help certain people, like older adults, in certain areas of cognition, like memory.
Whether or not these games truly change your brain and improve your thinking and memory has yet to be determined. But there's no harm in playing them and they're generally fun. However, if you really want to do something to improve your mind, the best bet is to read a book or pick up an instrument.
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