Brain-Training Games Based on Little to No Evidence

Young woman using smartphone

There are zillions of brain-training apps and websites that promise to help you improve your general mental skills by just repeating specific mental tasks day in, day out. But a comprehensive review shows the science behind these games is rather weak.

The brain-training industry has touted these games as a simple but effective ways of dramatically improving your memory, processing speed, and attention span. These games promise you would be better at recalling complex things such as phone numbers, faces, and facts before an important exam.

These apps are all the more appealing as they promise to help you improve your IQ and the quality of life while having fun. For instance, one such game “guarantees” it would help you double the speed of your visual processing skills and add an extra decade to your memory. The app also promises “more happy days,” an anti-aging effect, and lower medical bills.

Another game claims it has helped ADHD patients improve their attention span and underperforming students score better in reading and math tests. So, it is hard not to at least try these games as you grow older.

The brain-training industry was worth $715 million three years ago. But experts expect it to grow to $3.38 billion by the end of the decade.

Nevertheless, a group of psychologists claim people playing these games may be wasting their money. The seven researchers who conducted the study have experience with brain-training apps but they received no industry funds.

In their study, they sifted through nearly 400 studies on the purported health benefits of these games. The industry often uses these papers to back its claims and sell its products.

After two years, the research team published a review paper and the findings are worth reading.

Study authors found many of these studies have huge gaps and set forward little to no evidence. Scientists concluded that users become better at playing those games but experience no real benefits to their mental abilities or everyday life.

Lead author of the study Daniel Simons explained that if you need to get better at remembering which pills you have to take or your daily schedule you would be better off if you just trained those specific skills.

 “The review really leaves nothing out—and the evidence is unimpressive,”

said co-author Ulrich Mayr.

Another researcher said the review does a service for the whole brain-training field.

The Study Met with Criticism

But critics think otherwise. For instance, neuroscientist Henry Mahncke deemed the latest research biased. He believes the team “twisted” the facts in those studies to fit their own theories.

Mahncke explained cognitive training is not a magic bullet, but it does help with improving how real-word tasks are carried out. He noted the team conducted the study with total disregard to the recent advances of neuroscience. The researcher, however, is the chief executive of Posit Science, a company which specializes in designing cognitive training apps.

In response, study authors likened users of brain-training apps to professional chess players. These players can recall a wide array of chess moves and combinations but they are not better at remembering other stuff.
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