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.
"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.