I like to get to the gym early to flex my neocortex and dash through a few corpus callosum sprints. I preen and watch my cingulate gyrus stretch in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors.
Then it’s interval training: hippocampus, occipital lobe, and amygdala—ten reps each. I finish off with the parietal lobe—just to make sense of it all.
Brain training—it’s the stuff of dreams or what we used to call school.
Like physical fitness, brain fitness has become big business. (Lumosity has a capitalization of $32.5 million.) Scientifically designed training programs will take your money and claim to beef up your cognitive skills—attention, speed, problem solving, flexibility and working memory.
You expect to see the ads on the back of a comic book:
Don’t be a brain weeny! Don’t let brain bullies knock a prime number off your block or kick sand in your algorithm.
Go on-line and train your brain. Put the Charles Atlas in your Albert Einstein. Results scientifically proven or your money back!
Except that the results are not scientifically proven. However, they have not been disproved either. As of this writing, the on-line brain training sites have only tentative evidence for their claims. In fact, Lumosity was fined $2 million in 2015 by the Federal Trade Commission for unsubstantiated claims, also known as false advertising.
Yet, some people swear by brain training:
“All in all, I enjoy it and the idea of doing good/applying oneself in direction of self-improvement has been welcomed with Lumosity’s use.”
Others are skeptical:
“I paid for a full subscription last year, and played almost every day for several months, but I didn’t see/feel any noticeable cognitive improvement.”
“I really like to play, and I feel better when I do it, but I think those benefits are more on the psychological side, than on the cognitive one.”
“The exercises are at first fun, but become a bit boring in the long run.”
Like weightlifting, brain training is sometimes vanity enhancing:
“I definitely enjoyed playing the games (I still do it, as a free subscriber) and watching my scores get higher and higher, as well as my BPI, and it was rewarding to see that my overall index was better than 98% of people in my age range.”
Better at what? Playing the on-line brain games? Yes. Which is reassuring if we ever have to defend the planet using video games.
Lumosity says “We transform science into delightful games.” So, you’ll find that if that’s the sort of thing you enjoy, then you will probably enjoy it.
It’s circular reasoning: The brain games enhance brain fitness if your definition of brain fitness is skill at the brain games. But, that’s the problem: What is brain fitness?
Practice develops skills. But, does the practice itself create a near transfer or far transfer of skill improvement? Near transfer is the improvement of the immediate skills: swinging a baseball bat improves your ability to hit a pitch. A far transfer would be swinging a bat to improve your ability to hit a tennis ball, a golf ball or, farther still, kick a football.
So, will playing a brain game to enhance attention improve your ability to concentrate on the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics? The jury is still out.
Should you pay for brain training to strive for brain fitness? The more important question to ask is what are your goals? What do you want to achieve?
My brother developed a regimen to learn to read Mandarin. He practiced with his homemade flash cards constantly—even during dinner. He became a skilled Mandarin translator. He accessed the cognitive skills cited by Lumosity and others: working memory, speed, concentration, and flexibility. But, he improved his cognitive skills by working directly to achieve his goal.
So, pursue your goals. You can improve your cognitive abilities—without paying for brain training. Brain training seems to be a detour in the pursuit of your goals.
But, whatever your goals, you must engage your brain. The adage “use it or lose it” applies. Like muscles, unused cognitive skills can atrophy. So, if you are living the life of a mental sloth, brain training games are better than nothing. Or, if you have diagnosed cognitive deficits, brain training can help to preserve what might more rapidly be lost to disease.
So, if you enjoy paying for delightful brain games on line, why not?
But, don’t expect to march to the Nobel Prize awards stand—until they give out a Nobel for the best brain game player.