Do brain-training games really help you to improve your memory?
It’s worth asking, given the recent influx of brain-training apps available for every smartphone user out there: do brain-training games provide any real cognitive benefit? A new study looks into the matter.
People all over the world are using brain-training apps such as Lumosity or Elevate, which are used to improve their memory and concentration. However, when subjected to scientific scrutiny, the benefits of such brain-training games are revealed to be debatable.
In some studies, for example, it has been discovered that brain-training games can improve “executive functions, working memory, and processing speed” in young people, while others have lauded the benefits of such games in terms of preserving cognitive health in the elderly.
On the other side of the debate, on the other hand, we have those who believe that such advantages do not exist. In one study published last year, for example, researchers tracked the brain activity, cognitive abilities, and decision-making abilities of young adults, only to come to the conclusion that brain-training games “do not boost cognition.”
A new study lends support to the latter camp, according to the findings. Western University neuroscientists set out to determine whether the alleged cognitive benefits of brain-training tasks can be transferred to tasks that users haven’t been specifically trained for — but which engage the same brain regions — in order to better understand how the brain works.
Among those who contributed to the paper is Bobby Stojanoski, a research scientist in the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University who is also the lead author. The paper was published in the journal Neuropsychologia and was led by Bobby Stojanoski.
Putting the benefits of brain training to the test
It is explained in detail in Stojanoski and colleagues’ paper that much of the controversy surrounding the cognitive benefits of brain-training apps is due to the fact that most research studies have not chosen precise cognitive skills and outcome measures in a consistent manner.
A targeted training approach was used to correct this, and 72 participants were trained on “two different, but related, working memory tasks” in order to achieve the desired results.
Working memory refers to the brain’s ability to retain new information — such as a new name, a shopping list, or a telephone number — for a short period of time after it has been presented to the brain.
Two experiments were conducted with the participants. One task tested their working memory in relation to a specific task that they had been trained on, and the other task tested their working memory in relation to another, related task that they had not been trained on. The second task required the same areas of the brain as the first task.
After comparing their findings with a control group that received no training at all, but whose participants were only tested on the second task, they concluded that their findings were significantly different.
Apps are inferior to sleep, exercise, and friendship.
The research team discovered that participants’ performance in the second game did not improve as a result of their high scores in the first game.
In the study, the researchers hypothesised that if you get really, really good at one test by training for a long time, it is possible that you will see improvements on tests that are very similar. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any evidence to support that claim,” Stojanoski says.