Brain-training games don't work

- Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ah… there goes that theory.

Alas, research published today in Nature indicates that the possibility of improving your general cognitive abilities by playing brain-training games is an empty promise. More than 11,000 volunteers were split into three groups: one who played brain-training-type exercises; a second practised more general cognitive tests; and a control group who just pootled around the internet answering random questions. They did this for six weeks, bookended by benchmarking tests of memory, reasoning and other standard tests of cognitive function.

All three groups displayed improvement in the tasks they were performing. But all three groups also showed only small and similar increases in the benchmarking tests, possibly simply the effect of repeating the test. Conclusion? Practising brain-training games will improve your performance on brain-training games, but that effect will not transfer to other aspects of brain function. They will not make you brainier, so you may as well just pootle around on the internet. As lead researcher Adrian Owen says: “You’re not going to get better at playing the trumpet by practising the violin.”