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article imageNo evidence that playing 'brain games' make you smarter

By Tim Sandle     May 6, 2017 in Technology
A popular genera of computer and video games are ‘brain games’, such as puzzles and quizzes. These are marketed as helping to improve cognition and even to make people ‘smarter’. A major review of these games has found the opposite.
Brain games make millions of in sales but do they improve cognition and arrest help prevent age-related brain decline? These are the research questions posed by Florida State University psychologists and neuroscientists and they are important given that not only is there a major industry developing and promoting ‘brain games’, increasing numbers of consumers believe games that have the aim of ‘brain training’ help to protect them against memory loss or cognitive disorders (which shows the power of niche marketing). The findings, which indicate no beneficial effect from playing such games, are an example of a fact-based approach to science.
For the research, the scientists looked at whether playing ‘brain games’ could boost the "working memory" needed to complete a variety of tasks. To explore this they used a group of volunteer subjects. One group was asked to play a brain-training video game called "Mind Frontiers". The second group performed paper-based crossword games or number puzzles.
Following sessions carrying out these activities, the two subject groups were given memory tests and problems to solve. The aim was to see whether the test activities enhanced players' working memory and whether they improved reasoning and processing speed. That is, whether the brain games and puzzle playing led to a cognitive improvement. If this happens, then the phenomenon is referred to as “far transfer.”
However, the outcome of the research was that no improvement was seen and thus the theory of far transfer did not appear to occur. It was found that people can become trained to become better at completing certain recall tasks but overall memory does not improve. In essence, the researchers argue that if a senior was to take lots of crossword puzzles this would not help them to remember any better where they have left their car keys.
The researchers point to things like increasing aerobic exercise, rather than mental exercise, as being as effective for brain function. In a research note one of the lead researchers, Professor Wally Boot, summarizes the research outcome succinctly: “Our findings and previous studies confirm there's very little evidence these types of games can improve your life in a meaningful way.”
The research has been published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. The research paper is titled “Evidence for Narrow Transfer after Short-Term Cognitive Training in Older Adults.”
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