Tag Archives: Brain fitness

Gizmodo takes aim at Lumosity

28 Oct

Kate Knibbs at Gizmodo reports:

“Recently, a coalition of nearly 70 researchers spoke against brain games like Lumosity, signing a letter of consensus posted by the Stanford Longevity Center that lambasted the brain training community for promising a kind of mind power boost that just isn’t provable.”

The letter can be found here. This is the concluding paragraph:

“In summary: We object to the claim that brain games offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline when there is no compelling scientific evidence to date that they do. The promise of a magic bullet detracts from the best evidence to date, which is that cognitive health in old age reflects the long-term effects of healthy, engaged lifestyles. In the judgment of the signatories, exaggerated and misleading claims exploit the anxiety of older adults about impending cognitive decline. We encourage continued careful research and validation in this field.”


Do it yourself transcranial direct current stimulation?

31 Oct

There is mounting evidence that transcranial direct current stimulation can improve memory. Transcranial direct current stimulation, is a procedure where electrodes are attached to the skull and very low voltages are conducted through brain. The hypothesis is that the current affects the excitability of brain neurons.

This week an article appeared in The New York Times reporting on the growing do it yourself efforts at transcranial direct current stimulation. Experts in the article cautioned that too little is known about the safety of the procedure to advocate widespread use at this time.

Here is an example of a home-brewed transcranial direct current stimulation experimenter:

Brain training software: A negative finding

11 Aug

A new randomized placebo controlled study  of brain training software raises questions about the effectiveness of this approach.

Many popular software products claim to to improve your general cognitive functioning by intensive practice on specific cognitive tasks such as the n-back task. Redick and his colleagues found that practice will improve your performance on that narrow task but the improvements did not transfer to other cognitive tasks.

According to the authors:

“Despite improvements on both the dual n-back and visual search tasks with practice, and despite a high level of statistical power, there was no positive transfer to any of the cognitive ability tests.”

Where does this leave us? This is only one study, but it was rigorously conducted, and it makes me less confident in usefulness of brain training software.

My advice is to avoid spending money on brain training software and instead adopt challenging learning projects and use scientifically verified spaced repetition software to improve your memory.


Patricia Marx on brain training

29 Jul

In the July 29th New Yorker, writer Patricia Marx experiments with several brain training regimes. The piece is written humorously and can not be seen as a rigorous examination of all these programs, but she does exhibit a healthy degree of skepticism both about the claims made by the brain fitness promoters and about the expense of these programs.

Some of the intervention she describes, such as meditation, do find support in the scientific literature. However, many entrepreneurs take intriguing scientific findings and make claims that go beyond the available evidence. This is particularly true in case of brain fitness software.

We do have evidence that cognitive engagement may improve memory and protect against dementia. However, we have very little evidence about the effects of specific brain training software.

My advice is that adults should take up challenging learning projects, such as studying a foreign language or learning to play a musical instrument, as the best form of brain training. Not only is there evidence that these projects may be beneficial, they have the added advantage of enriching our lives.

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