Brain training games don’t work, study says

21 Apr 2010

The highly lucrative brain training games market may be based on empty claims: these games do not actually make the user noticeably smarter, a study just published in science journal Nature suggests.

What the study is actually saying is that the only benefit of playing brain training games is that the player gets better at playing these games but these cognitive improvements do not necessarily transfer. So it’s apples and oranges then?

“The widely held belief that commercially available computerised brain-training programs improve general cognitive function in the wider population in our opinion lacks empirical support,” says the study.

“The central question is not whether performance on cognitive tests can be improved by training, but rather, whether those benefits transfer to other untrained tasks or lead to any general improvement in the level of cognitive functioning.”

The study took 11,430 participants for six weeks and had them train several times a week on cognitive tasks designed to improve reasoning, memory, planning, visuospatial skills and attention. What was found was that while the participants did get better at these particular cognitive tasks there was no evidence that the cognitive improvements transferred to untrained tasks, even ones that were cognitively closely related.

This study, commissioned by the BBC, is part of its popular science programme ‘Bang Goes The Theory‘ and these results come from the UK-wide call last September for the public to participate in ‘Brain Test Britain’.

The bottom line seems to suggest that those brain training games you play on your handheld games console, smartphone or computer do not in fact make you any smarter.

By Marie Boran

Photo: Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?, one of the more popular brain training games on the market