"Improve cognitive abilities,
such as memory and concentration,
with sleek, fun and addictive games
designed by neuroscientists."
These are the types of claims you’ll hear from developers of brain games. People are buying them, too. The games and the promises.
In fact, "brain training" has become a billion-dollar industry!
The concept of using games to train your brain can sound pretty appealing. You use a fun and challenging app on your phone or computer. And you can not only pass the time, but also become smarter in the meantime.
Sounds too good to be true, right?
That’s because it might be.
Brain Games, Not Gains
Unfortunately, current research doesn’t support many of the claims made for brain games. That’s according to a new study published in the science journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
"Our findings and previous studies confirm there’s very little evidence these types of games can improve your life in a meaningful way," said Wally Boot. Dr. Boot is an expert on age-related cognitive decline at Florida State University.
Millions of people around the world typically spend more than $100 a year and hundreds of hours "training their brains." So, this is a big finding from the FSU research team.
The theory behind most brain games is that they can improve your working memory.
"Working memory" is the thinking skill that focuses on memory-in-action. That is, your ability to remember and use relevant information while you’re in the middle of an activity.
Working memory helps you hold on to information long enough to use it. It’s crucial to concentration, and can affect how well you learn something.
The FSU team examined whether improving our working memory would translate to better performance on other tasks. Or, as the researchers called it, "far transfer."
All study participants were given information they needed to juggle to solve problems.
Researchers tested whether the games enhanced players’ working memory. They also looked at whether it, in turn, improved other mental abilities. (Reasoning, memory and processing speed.)
Wrap Your Mind Around This …
There was some good news. But for most who want to use these games to stay sharp, it’s probably not enough.
As Neil Charness, lead author of the study, explains:
"It’s possible to train people to become very good at tasks that you would normally consider general working memory tasks: memorizing 70, 80, even 100 digits.
"But these skills tend to be very specific and not show a lot of transfer. The thing that seniors in particular should be concerned about is, if I can get very good at crossword puzzles, is that going to help me remember where my keys are?
"And the answer is probably no."
Adding to a consensus among other published studies is this …
Brain-training games aren’t improving your cognitive skills, but rather just making you better at the games themselves.
So, it’s not surprising then that the brain-game industry has recently come under legal fire. Some companies are facing fines as high as $50 million for false advertising.
Have you ever used brain games before? Were you able to improve your memory beyond getting better at playing the games? Perhaps you are thinking about trying these brain-training exercises anyway. Does this new research change your mind at all? Please let us know in the comments section.
Happy and healthy investing,
Dustin J. Souders, Walter R. Boot, Kenneth Blocker, Thomas Vitale, Nelson A. Roque, Neil Charness. Evidence for Narrow Transfer after Short-Term Cognitive Training in Older Adults. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 2017; 9 DOI: 10.3389/fnagi.2017.00041