No Gain in Brain Games
New research concludes that brain games do not actually improve cognition or help in preventing age-related brain decline.
Most people assume the popular brain games available on the world wide web make participants smarter. In reality, such brain games might not be that helpful. A recent study conducted at Florida State University found that there is no evidence that brain games boost overall cognitive abilities. In reality, those hyperbolic advertisements touting the merits of alleged brain-training products might not hold any truth at all.
About the Study
The Florida State University study was led by Neil Charness, Wally Boot and Dustin Souders. Souders is a graduate student at the university. Boot is an associate professor of psychology. Charness is a top authority on cognition and aging. He is also a FSU professor of psychology and the university's director at the Institute for Successful Longevity.
The study narrowed in on whether brain games improve the working memory required for myriad tasks. The study analyzed a group of people that played the brain training game known as Mind Frontiers. A second group completed crossword-style games along with number puzzles. Each player was provided with the information necessary to solve problems.
The research team tested whether game players enjoyed improved working memory that heightened other mental abilities ranging from processing speed to memory and reasoning. After all, this is the fundamental claim of the companies that produce brain games. The research team also analyzed whether boosting working memory translates to improved performance on additional tasks. This translation of working memory to other challenges is commonly referred to as “far transfer”.
Charness and his colleagues determined there is minimal evidence that brain games can boost one's brainpower or life in a meaningful way. Indeed, exaggerated claims that such brain games boost cognition have recently resulted in some hefty fines for the companies that produce these products.
Though the research team indicated it is possible to train a person to excel at tasks that are considered working memory challenges, such skills are quite narrow in scope and do not show considerable transfer. In particular, seniors should be concerned about whether their ability to solve crossword puzzles will help them remember small life details such as where their keys are placed. The study's findings show that the odds of brain games boosting memory for such subtle details are quite low.
Additional Information of Note
Charness points out that additional research determined that aerobic exercise boosts the brain. Most people assume that strictly mental exercises heighten cognitive abilities. The little-known truth is that physical exercise often creates helpful structural changes within the brain that improve its function. Charness predicts that a combination of exercise and brain games known as “exer-gaming” will spike in popularity across the next couple of decades.
Though the study detailed above concluded that brain games do little, if anything, to boost brainpower, Charness is adamant that people should not be “totally discouraged”. He insists that the research effort should be viewed as another piece of the puzzle that humanity is attempting to assemble. Though brain games do little to boost far transfer, it is still possible to boost cognitive ability through aerobic exercise.