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Games fail to train brains



By Stephen Easton

There is no evidence to support the idea that becoming an ace at playing a ‘brain training’ computer game will improve your cognitive function in any other areas, according to results from a large study published in the respected journal, Nature.

The latest study is the largest yet to fail to find any evidence to corroborate the idea that brain training games have any impact on general cognitive functions, beyond the skill of playing the game itself.

Researchers from the UK examined the results of more than 11,000 people who participated in the online study and concluded that, “Although improvements were observed in every one of the cognitive tasks that were trained, no evidence was found for transfer effects to untrained tasks, even when those tasks were cognitively closely related.” 

Eight researchers, Adrian Owen, Adam Hampshire, Jessica Grahn, Robert Stenton, Said Dajani, Alistair Burns, Robert Howard and Clive Ballard, related the results and supporting data from the study, along with the methods that were used, in a letter that was published in the June edition of the prestigious journal under the headline, ‘Putting brain training to the test’.

The 11,430 participants of the six-week study were sourced from among the viewers of the BBC popular science program, Bang Goes the Theory, and trained several times a week on cognitive tasks designed to improve reasoning, memory, planning, visuo-spatial skills and attention span.

“‘Brain training’, or the goal of improved cognitive function through the regular use of computerized tests, is a multimillion pound industry, yet in our view scientific evidence to support its efficacy is lacking,” the authors of the ‘letter’ to the journal said.

However there are more general lifestyle strategies that studies have shown can delay – or even prevent – the onset of dementia. These include mentally stimulating activities, keeping fit, maintaining a healthy diet, remaining socially active, not smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation.



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0 Responses to Games fail to train brains

  1. David July 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    the study only proved that the program they used to train didnt provide transferance of skills developed.

    Thus – proving program A dosent work dosent mean program B

    I believe it certainly works as it is growing in a way that people recognize differences in their life. Yes its possible to know when your perceptual abilities improve.

    this article is actually quite a bit behind the times and late as these sort of articles where already written awhile back when this study in nature was published and the reaction was put out by all brain training companies that all that was proved was that the program that was used didnt povide transferance.

    playing soduku all day for 6 weeks will not cause your perceptual abilities to improve no matter how hard you try

  2. Anonymous July 7, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    I’m surprised sometimes by the overconfidence associated with large sample size studies. Does studying 11K people really give more accurate results than studying a few hundred people? Is the variance really the problem? or are the underlying biases teh real story?

    I would have been more interested to see them divide that 11K up a little (what an opportunity they had) to see if, for example, the amount of training had an impact. Only 30 minutes of training per week in this study(!?), in comparison to (Jaegger,2008) which had 25 minutes per day and saw dual-n-back span increase by almost 3 items in 2 weeks? The authors of the present study say that it would take 4 years to increase digit span by 1 based on linear extrapolation, but fail to consider if training intensity itself IS a parameter.

    Nice to see the work being done, but I wasn’t impressed with the experimental design. With that amount of data, a few tweaks to the experimental design could have provided a ton of information which could be generalized. Instead, it just shows as the writer above pointed out, that the brain training exercises, at the training intensity used, and time frame used, etc etc did not show significant results…

  3. isabel Baker July 22, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    Over a 2 year period I have engaged in a brain training program (usually daily 15-30min) from a leading university and have seen improvement in every area that has been addressed visual spatial recognition, memory, attention, problem solving, mathematical with a wide variety of tasks . The program progessess through increasing levels of difficulty as well. I am aware that when I do not engage regularly in the program I lose ability but certainly not back to the level that I started at and that it is not long before I have regained ability lost and continue to improve

  4. Simen August 2, 2011 at 5:57 am #

    Ehh, this research I have to say was rubbish and doesn’t prove or disprove anything at all. We are talking about brain training and it is obvious that you wouldn’t notice any cognitive improvements from only doing it 30 minutes a week (wtf?). That intensity is a disgrace to cognitive research!

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