I remember when I first started seeing Stuart Vyse’s columns at the CSI website, and with each piece, always thinking, “Wow, I’m really glad someone wrote about that.” That’s how I felt again seeing Vyse discuss the claims of “brain-training” games and services. And yes, he wrote about this subject in 2015 for CSI in a piece called “Neuro-Pseudoscience.”
Vyse traced the recent history of this app-age phenomenon, in which games (games are fun!) are said to be able to exercise one’s brain into being a stronger, quicker muscle of cognition. He went all the way back to an old Nintendo DS game from 2005, “Brain Age,” but let them more or less off the hook. “They get a little bit of cover when it comes to false advertising,” because despite some of the claims made about the product, it remained, really, “just a game.”
Not so with services like Lumosity, however. Companies like this market their brain-training services as being backed by serious science, boasting scientists on board with them, and promising real-world benefits outside of the games in the training regimen.
You don’t need to read Stuart’s article or see his presentation to guess what the truth about these claims are: Baseless. There have been multiple “scientific salvos” launched by both skeptical scientists and the companies themselves, but a reliable, controlled study did find that while Lumosity-style games to make one better at other Lumosity-style games, there are no broader, “transferable” cognitive effects in any other areas of life.
This leads to the question, if you’ve been trying to train your brain with these services, what else could you have been doing instead? “If you want to be better at an activity,” said Vyse, “it might be best to practice it directly.” Imagine that.