New Study Shows Brain Training Programmes Not Associated With Benefits of Cognition

No, brain training games do not make you smarter. A new study looked into the phenomenon and it has bad news for people who want to say that their games make them any smarter than the people who would rather be playing Candy Crush. From computer games to crosswords to Sudoku, people  think these games would sharpen their mental abilities. Not to forget, there is this urge to enhance our cognitive abilities to such a degree that it has, according to some estimates, driven a billion-dollar industry as well. But that’s not how it works.

Bobby Stojanoski, a cognitive neuroscientist at Western University in Ontario, and his colleagues undertook an exercise, perhaps the biggest test of these programmes, as part of their study. The team recruited a diverse set of over 1,000 people, who were committed to these brain training games and assessed them in comparison with 7,500 other people who didn’t do any of these brain workouts.

In the abstract of the paper titled, “Brain training habits are not associated with generalized benefits to cognition: An online study of over 1,000 “brain trainers”, the scientists said that cognition was assessed using multiple tests that measure attention, reasoning, working memory and planning. “We found no association between any measure of cognitive functioning and whether participants were currently “brain training” or not, even for the most committed brain trainers,” the study, published in the April issue of Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, said.

Not just that, the study also found that the duration for which a human remained committed to these brain-training programmes, too, had no relationship with any cognitive performance measure. “This result was the same regardless of participant age, which brain training program they used, or whether they expected brain training to work,” the researchers said. The study’s conclusions pose a significant challenge for “brain training” programs that purport to improve general cognitive functioning among the general population, they said.

According to a report, the team recruited a total of 8,563 volunteers globally through a Toronto-based company, Cambridge Brain Sciences. The volunteers answered some of the questions online about their training habits, opinions about training benefits and which, if any, program they used. The report stated that 1,009 people accepted using brain training programmes for eight months on average. The durations varied from individual to individual.

Following this, the participants completed 12 cognitive tests assessing memory, reasoning and verbal skills. And when the researchers analysed the results, they realised that the ones who were committed users of brain-training programmes had no mental edge over the ones who didn’t train. The team found that even the most dedicated users didn’t have an upper hand over others who didn’t use these programmes.  

“No matter how we sliced the data, we were unable to find any evidence that brain training was associated with cognitive abilities,” Stojanoski said.

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