Brain training games don't improve thinking - Study

Scientists track more than 11,000 people over six weeks, find regular training produces no improvement on benchmark intelligence tests.

Contrary to what marketing campaigns would have people believe, a new scientific study suggests that brain training games only train the brain to get better at brain training games. The study, led by Adrian M. Owen and Adam Hampshire of the UK Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit and published yesterday by the journal Nature, found no appreciable cognitive benefits from a six-week stint of brain training programs.

Maybe a few thousand volts will jog the subject's memory…

"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," the researchers concluded.

The study was conducted online with 11,430 participants divided into three groups. One group was given brain training tests that focused on problem-solving and reasoning, while another was trained on a wider spectrum of tests focusing on short-term memory, visuospatial processing, and math. A separate control group was asked to comb the Internet in search of answers to general knowledge questions.

All three groups were given the same set of four benchmark tests at the beginning and end of the six-week program. As evidence of the inefficacy of the brain training, the scientists called out results from one benchmark test in particular.

Participants were tested as to how many digits they could remember in sequence before and after the program. The average number of digits recalled by those who had been taking tests purported to improve memory increased by three-hundredths of a digit. Assuming linear returns and a steady rate of training, it would take four years for the average person to remember a single extra digit. By comparison, the group of people who had forgone training in favor of Internet surfing saw their average improve by two-tenths of a digit.

Written By

Want the latest news about Brain Training for Dummies?

Brain Training for Dummies

Brain Training for Dummies

Follow

Discussion

284 comments
9thedevilmaycry
9thedevilmaycry

so this is why my little brother failed in his test...

Todor63b
Todor63b

Same thing can be said for IQ tests. By taking mass IQ tests every day, your results at IQ tests will become better and better... Does that make you smarter? Also, I believe IQ tests cannot be taken seriously, because all they test is your CONVENTIONAL logic and memory related capabilities, and if people were following the conventional way of thinking, they would still live in caves and make their tools from flint. Just think about it... all of the brilliant scientists and inventors succeeded because of their unconventional points of view.

Harerazer
Harerazer

Modern Warfare requires less thinking than making pancakes...with Complete batter. Thinking games require decision making. "Let me shoot him" is not a decision, it's an action. Which would hurt more...the grenade or the rocket launcher?" would require a decision. And really, how many people actually make any decisions in any shooters. That is twitch based gaming at it's best.

inaka_rob
inaka_rob

playing one game a whole bunch does NOT make me better at all games. maybe at some early age games improved my hand eye cordination. I play games almost every day, I am not getting any faster or better. I play a game to get better at that game. Even fast paced games like Modern Warfare are about thinking. not hand eye coordination. Its about strategy. Where do I go next, what gun, where to camp, grenade, knife, etc. That whole hand-eye coordination was a bunch of bull to make parents think games were at least doing some good.

El_Conrado
El_Conrado

Hmmm, who should I trust more, a neurologist with a 20 year track record of helping children and adults improve their memory and cognitive abilities, or a 6 week study done through the internet by a guy who specializes in coma patients? Tough...

Seiki_sands
Seiki_sands

Alternate headline: Scientists use brain games to determine brain games are bunk. @chefstubbies If you intensively play Street Fighter II for 6 weeks, it might very well improve gaming skills across the board, as hand-eye coordination, reaction time, and merely growing acclimation to a video game interface apply to all genres. I'd venture to guess it doesn't even take six weeks. I'm noticeably faster and more fluid in almost every game I play after a two hour session with a twitchy game like geometry wars. That said, I doubt it would help me with a Myst clone.

chefstubbies
chefstubbies

What is the purpose in studies like this? If you play six weeks of Street Fighter 2, that does not mean that you are now better at all video games (first person shooters, driving, platformers, etc.) it means you are now better at playing Street Fighter 2. The only thing this study teaches me is that just because you are a scientist, that does not necessarily mean that you have what is referred to as "common sense".

nohabs
nohabs

I are smrt. 7 years of high school and playing games. what are they talking about ?

syafiqjabar
syafiqjabar

@ comachrissie You know, that comment just got you reported for spewing unrelated BS.

VarietyMage
VarietyMage

My 2 cents: If you want higher intelligence, start at age 2, not 10 or later. Intelligence is based on real-life scenarios and how well people react to them. Video games are trying NOT to be real life, so they actually can have a detrimental effect. Doing a stunt jump from GTA 4 in real life would land you either in the hospital or the morgue, so that's definitely not an intelligent thing to do. Flying a plane in the best of flight simulators will still not simulate the pants-staining effect of the same thing happening in real life, wasting precious seconds that could mean life and death. That's the whole point of intelligence, anyway...making the general public smarter with regards to everyday life. On that basis, trivia games might be the best of the bunch, because you might learn a thing or two that could actually be of some use later. Main point: Game results are no indicator of future intelligence. Maybe carpal tunnel, being single, being overweight and/or body odor from sweat, but not intelligence. If you want intelligence from a game, try to beat the stock market - it's the smartest game in town, with the winners having a huge amount of money as their prize.

zar144
zar144

At least its a good way to kill time.

nevryn
nevryn

@masterlu Well in that case you are most likely correct. The vast majority of junk out there is worthless. You're also probably correct in surmising that the stuff used for the brain games is far more simplistic than most standardized IQ tests. Most of the standardized tests require a good deal of subjective decisions about answers, which a computer simply could not do. Oh and a clarification about this research, digit span (the number sequencing task) is an AWFUL choice for this. An individual's memory for single items has been well shown to be 7+ or - 2. So between 5 and 9. With such a small range, is it any wonder they don't find effects?

masterlu
masterlu

@nevryn Alright, perhaps I was generalizing a bit. I was mainly referring to the kinds of unassisted/unsupervised tests performed for job interviews or just for fun... you know, "which one of these does not belong" and "which number is the next in line" - the kinds where you try one or two tests and then you've figure out what to look for in the various parts of the test and what method is used to calculate the next letter or number or what have you. I haven't actually played any 'brain' games, but my guess is most of them are fairly simplistic...

roosuu
roosuu

I have taken AP stats and from what I read, the test was flawed. Unless every group contained people of the same IQ score, no fair comparison can really be made because some people might be smarter than others.

krytorii
krytorii

The results of these tests will always vary on how you work on them... We don't have enough information here to make a full conclusion of our own. We only really have the highlights I do believe that these games have some benefit, just as many activities do. Whether the benefits outweigh the negative effects of sitting on your backside for several hours is disputable. Think of playing an FPS, the first time you did it you were really bad (especially with online play). After a while your reflexes got better, you now shoot almost without thinking. Same goes for these games, but the effects are very confined based on the situation. Alot of it in these games is memorisation of patterns/special combinations (especially in the maths based ones), which tbh is only better than learning trivia as it is more applicable to everyday life. Still I think a better way to improve your mind is to learn new logical/maths problems and work through them on your own. This gets you to think logically and sometimes laterally. Because each puzzle is new, you dont ever get used to it and just start memorizing.

JanusStormsword
JanusStormsword

It really wasn't conducted over a long enough stretch of time to see any meaningful results. Did they think everyone's IQ and mental capacity would vastly increase in just 6 weeks? Let's get real. The fact that people who just randomly surfed the internet had that large of an improvement from one test to the next shows that the scientific merit of this testing is exceedingly limited.

spector000
spector000

NO game is going to make you smarter, only life can teach you that. And when i say smarter i mean make fewer mistakes. Smartest guy on the planet is a guy that made just one mistake his whole life. Guess which is the mistake...

isaacmj
isaacmj

What a joke! Once I developed an incredible addiction to Tetris and since then my intelectual capacity has increased considerably. Besides, there are scientific tests to prove anything, I stopped drinking coffee becuase a research said it "produced cancer" and one year later another research said it "prevented cancer".

ChristianKiss
ChristianKiss

That's OK, but the final word is that, without a doubt, it's always a good idea to keep your mind busy with some thinking. Considering my personal experience with gaming (I play consoles and the PC since I was 4 years old), I can say that games DOES improve your logical thinking, especially if you like puzzle-oriented games, RPGs and Adventures in general. Talking about memory, everything that makes you think a bit deeper than usual is good for your head. That's like someone's body muscles: keep them active and you'll preserve them in good conditions.

Spexter
Spexter

Well they can't make a genius out of someone but they can't help you develop logical thinking...at least that's my theory and no matter what studies say,I still believe they can help you a little...and by these games I don't mean"brain" games,I mean p&c adventures,RPGs and stuff...they actually do make you think in a wide variety of ways...

Malhound
Malhound

Rayman Brain Games, only for kids? A lot of these brain games had nothing on what they used to be.

Malhound
Malhound

Rayman Brain Games on the ps1, Mind Quiz (PSP) a lot of these games suck.

UnknownForm
UnknownForm

Ha! Take that Dr. Kawashima and your Brain Age games! :P

EVOTERRY
EVOTERRY

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

hatieshorrer
hatieshorrer

darn now the only reason people will play them is for fun.

Dynamo11
Dynamo11

@comachrissie Oh yeah cause multi-billionaire Microsoft really wants a sh*tty novelty franchise... get real!

comachrissie
comachrissie

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

_Elric_
_Elric_

I don't know if my brain is getting any exercise or not but I'm fairly sure video games have given me ADD! Oh look a butterfly! What was I saying, again?

Gooeykat
Gooeykat

They needed a study to tell them this?

SoNin360
SoNin360

I think in a way video games help my overall thinking process over time. Even if it just helps me play the specific game smarter, it still makes me feel slightly smarter, if that makes any sense... anyways this study doesn't seem to prove very much...

scotwolf
scotwolf

scientists what do they know? there about as good as politicians with statistics. the brain training games on the ds are just that games, and surely keeping your brain active in anyway has got to be better than nothing

EVOTERRY
EVOTERRY

My bung hole hurts I took the most stinky poop in ma life!

KamikazeCanuck
KamikazeCanuck

The point is it makes your mind work. That is beneficial. They never claimed it would make you do better on an IQ test.

reeree746
reeree746

If you think you're "training" you're brain from playing a video game daily...there is something seriously wrong with you.... Video games were never meant to make you smarter.

nevryn
nevryn

@masterlu As a psychologist that actually does IQ tests, I can say your statement is untrue. IQ tests are designed to determine your ability to perform in future scholastic areas. Whether that is "intelligence" or not depends on your definition of intelligence, which is of course a highly debated area in psychology. As for the findings, they are rather unsurprising given that the number provided by IQ tests is viewed as relatively stable and unlikely to change. I rather hope the company making the game never promised such a thing in the first place. There is some research out there though that shows these sorts of games/tasks can help to ward off cognitive degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and dementia by keeping the mind active and forming more neural connections providing more pathways for the transmission of information when the neurons begin dying. However, the effect is no greater than less expensive things such as working crossword puzzles in the newspaper. The point is to keep the mind active as you grow older.

BallisstiXXX
BallisstiXXX

Wow, I think I just got dumber reading this. This was kind of obvious wasn't it? Well, at least for the people who didn't buy those games.

DarkTempler1
DarkTempler1

@fps_d0minat0r Maybe this specific game but their are some that do I believe. Puzzle games for sure is a good example.

e1337prodigy
e1337prodigy

LOL known this for ages, hence why I have never bought one. Feel sorry for those people that have wasted money and time on them.

masterlu
masterlu

Shocking. Training to perform a set of tasks makes you better at that set of tasks. Somebody call the board of education! Seriously though, everybody knows that most IQ tests only test your ability to perform IQ tests. Just like answering exam questions mainly tests your ability to answer exam questions.

funkymonkey4710
funkymonkey4710

This should have been self explanatory. All thinking games do are stimulate your brain and help you remember things that APPEAR in the games themselves. I am pretty sure those tests they gave them had NOTHING to do with the games that they played, thus showing that the games didn't help them in the test because the games helped them in fields that the games covered.

green_dominator
green_dominator

People need to live life and learn through trial and error and not by taking quizzes, yeah It's kinda fun to say that you know more useless trivia than the other guy but that won't help your IQ score lol

doanm
doanm

yeah i'm just going to shamelessly pull quotes from stardestroyer.net.... "That’s just a ***** study that could not be considered remotely conclusive. The sample size is nice, but the time frame is far too small. 10 minutes a day three days a week for six weeks is only THREE HOURS total training. Of course that’s not going to do anything; you could easily conclude that normal exercise is totally useless off such a tiny time frame of activity as well." -Sea Skimmer

AngelCage-2
AngelCage-2

so... what was the whole pourpouse of that brain-ish crap games of nintendo? ... Oh yes, it's only shovelware designed to hunt for people who want be more intelligent and rip the money off.... what was i thinking. Now, while this was expected (how in the hell a kiddie-dumb minigame will make you more intelligent? i pitty the fools who get those games hoping for that) there's some imporvements on other areas when you play some games... Driving games for example, i improved my driving thechnique playing Gran Turismo 3a-spec and GT4... i don't know how, but now, i fully know how to identify and follow the "line" on real life driving... and i can "feel" just the moment when i'm pushing the car too much on the cornering and are just about to loose control. Some games improve your reflexes or make your visual reactions faster... but make you more intelligent? please.

raydawg2000
raydawg2000

might not be total BS, i think it just depends on how you look at it. My mom isn't claiming to be a genuis now, but as she gets older her mind slows down a bit and she has a hard time focusing. she said that playing brain age help gets her more alert and keeps her mind stimulated for the rest of the days activities.

ZIMdoom
ZIMdoom

@eldestgod. You are contradicting yourself. If you had tons of tutoring games, and you admit those games helped you learn and get through school...how can you then logically turn around and say those games didn't work? You say you aren't any smarter? Yet you learned and passed school because of that tutoring. How is that not being smarter? Because your IQ didn't change? What is an IQ test if not more puzzles? And if that is the case, why would you put merit in IQ tests but not in game tutors when they are doing essentially the same thing? Then you say games contributed to your ADD and yet there is zero scientific evidence that games cause ADD.

Noah-Phoenix
Noah-Phoenix

The entire programe was s**te. They set out to 'prove' it didn't work. Their conclusion was that it didn't translate - that's beacause the end tests were different to the things they trained in. If someone trains me to fix a car, does that mean I'm going to go fix someones brain tumor? No it blinkin don't. I was useless at maths, my brain would just freeze up when I even did a simple addition. Now I've been using brain training, I can do it. If I stop using it, then my brain switches off again. I can 'train' my brain to be better at maths by playing maths games. The game never said it would improve my IQ. At least not that I remember.