M. Jackson Group Update – November 2016 – Does “Brain Training” Work?

This month’s post is from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field. The article is as follows:
The new issue of *Psychological Science in the Public Interest* includes an article: “Do “Brain-Training” Programs Work?”

PLEASE NOTE: As usual, I’ll include both the author’s email address (for requesting electronic reprints) and a link to the complete article at the end below.

The authors are Daniel J. Simons1 Walter R. Boot2 Neil Charness2,3 Susan E. Gathercole4,5 Christopher F. Chabris6,7 David Z. Hambrick8 Elizabeth A. L. Stine-Morrow9,10.

Here’s how it opens:

[begin excerpt]

Spend a few minutes listening to public radio, surfing the Internet, or reading magazines, and you will be bombarded with advertisements touting the power of brain training to improve your life. Lumosity converts basic cognitive tasks into games and has noted in an introductory video that “every game targets an ability important to you, like memory, attention, problem-solving, and more” (“Learn How Lumosity Works” video previously hosted at www.lumosity.com: “Cutting Edge Science Personalized for You,” 2015). Posit Science teamed up with the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) to offer a version of its BrainHQ software as part of a “Staying Sharp” membership (http://www.aarp.org/ws/miv/staying-sharp/). Cogmed markets its working-memory training program to schools and therapists, claiming that it “will help you academically, socially, and professionally” by “allowing you to focus and resist distractions better” (“How Is Cogmed Different,” 2015). And CogniFit has promised to “add useful cognitive training programs for your daily life” (“Improve Your Brain While Having Fun,” 2015).

Such statements are standard fare in the marketing materials of brain-training companies, and most back their claims by appealing to the expertise of their founders and/or by citing supporting published research. The aforementioned video emphasizes that Lumosity is “based on neuroscience research from top universities around the world,” and elsewhere on the website the company provides a bibliography of 46 papers, posters, and conference presentations from its Human Cognition Project (www.lumosity.com/hcp/research/bibliography). Posit Science’s website notes that BrainHQ was “built and tested by an international team of top neuroscientists and other brain experts” and has claimed real benefits shown in “more than 70 published papers” (“Brain Training That Works,” 2015), stating that “no other program has this level of proof.” Cogmed, too, notes that its program was “developed by leading neuroscientists” and claims that “no other brain-training product or attention-training method can show this degree of research validation” (“Frequently Asked Questions,” 2015). CogniFit has promised “fun addictive games designed by neuroscientists” (“Improve Your Brain While Having Fun,” 2015).

But does the published research support the claim that such brain-training interventions, or “brain games,” improve real-world performance on tasks that matter in our academic, personal, or professional lives?

[end excerpt]

Another excerpt: “Based on this examination, we find extensive evidence that brain-training interventions improve performance on the trained tasks, less evidence that such interventions improve performance on closely related tasks, and little evidence that training enhances performance on distantly related tasks or that training improves everyday cognitive performance. We also find that many of the published intervention studies had major shortcomings in design or analysis that preclude definitive conclusions about the efficacy of training, and that none of the cited studies conformed to all of the best practices we identify as essential to drawing clear conclusions about the benefits of brain training for everyday activities.”

REPRINTS: Daniel J. Simons, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois, 603 E. Daniel St., Champaign, IL 61820 E-mail: dsimons@illinois.edu

The article is online at:

Ken Pope

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“You can tell whether people are clever by their answers.  You can tell whether people are wise by their questions.”
–Naguib Mahfouz, 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature