Brain Training Games: Cure or Con?

In recent years there has been a noticeable surge in the popularity of brain training games especially through electronic mediums. Many of the companies responsible for the sale and development of said brain training games claim that consistent use of their products will improve memory and attention or even go as far as to say that their games can prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia. The majority of products consist of multiple mini psychological tests that gage and track a variety of cognitive dimensions.

One of the most popular products in the brain training space is Lumosity. It begins with the user taking three baseline tests and compares the user’s scores to others their age. The user is then encouraged to complete daily mental workouts that challenge five core cognitive abilities through a plethora of 50 plus games that they claim have been adapted from traditional tasks measuring cognitive abilities. As a user progresses, the workouts increase in their level of difficulty. Supposedly, after some length of time an individual will notice improved abilities as measured by an aggregate assessment of cognition.

There are many anecdotes providing positive reviews of Lumosity, however there are also numerous skeptics. Many experts in the field such as neuroscientists and psychologists have stated that there is no conclusive evidence that these games do in fact improve memory, and definitely no evidence to support the prevention of severe disorders such as Alzheimer’s. Others in the field go as far as to call Lumosity and like products a scam. Although, there is evidence that the brain is malleable, that neurogenesis continues to occur in some parts of the brain including those responsible for memory and of course the classic fire together wire together phenomenon of long term potentiation. Despite the above evidence, the majority of field experts would suggest learning a new skill as a more effective method of exercising the brain as these tasks continually force the brain to solve new problems which is what is required for long term potentiation to occur.

On the home page of the Lumosity website it states that the company is dedicated to “promoting innovation in cognitive research”, collaborates with over 90 universities and conducts ongoing research and development in which their scientists work side-by-side with their designers. Yet despite Lumosity’s numerous efforts to back their technology with scientifically valid evidence they fell short of pleasing the Federal Trade Commission who accused Lumosity of deceptive and misleading advertisements as the company’s claims could not be sufficiently supported. As a result Lumosity was forced to pay two million dollars in reparations.

Regardless of the allegations and settlement, Lumosity stands proudly behind its product and continues to be a hugely successful company. What remains to be seen in the future is whether Lumosity and like companies in collaboration with the scientific community will be able to develop brain training games that conclusively improve memory and can prevent severely disabling neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Hopefully the answer is yes.