Online Brain Training Effectiveness: Reality or Hype?

Online Brain Training Effectiveness: Reality or Hype?

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Online Brain Training Effectiveness: Reality or Hype?

Brain-training has become an incredibly lucrative business in the past few years with companies like Lumosity, Jungle Memory, Nintendo and CogniFit having created various neuroscientific computer games which parents are using to help their children improve their “Grades, Working Memory, and IQ”. Evidence apparently based on clinical trials, and as claimed by Jungle Memory, specifically mentions that students have even increased their grades from a ‘C’ all the way up to an ‘A’ in a short amount of time.

According to one of the better known online game-developers of brain-training, Lumosity, a few minutes daily can boost your brain power and improve both your focus and your memory. At least that’s what the advertising copy on the computer-based training programmes would suggest. But research teams beg to differ and view the process and result of brain-training as being more theoretical than practical.

The online brain-training phenomena has reached unprecedented levels the world over with 35 million people investing in Lumosity alone which sees its business increasing yearly, having recently hit £16m in revenue with approximately 50,000 downloads of its app.

Online brain-training programmes like Cogmed are now being used in schools throughout the UK. Cogmed training is advertised as being beneficial to all ages, especially to those with attention deficits and memory lapses. The developers of the Cogmed training program state that 8 out of 10 users who complete the training show an improved ability to focus, stick to a task, and minimise distractions.

Many parents have even decided to push their children towards playing brain-training games as opposed to using private tutoring in order to help their children develop their brains, improve memory and patience, and overall concentration.

So why have many researchers not embraced the power of online brain-training programmes and instead, disputed its effectiveness entirely in helping people increase their intelligence, focus and awareness? Based on the findings of a group of qualified psychologists along with a study conducted in 2010 by a neuroscientist, very few benefits were achieved by 11,000 adults who completed a series of training tasks over six weeks to improve their overall skills in various areas including reading, memory, and attention. With the exception of improving results in day-to-day repetitive tasks, no overall improvement in any particular area was achieved.

It was concluded by the psychologists that people who played the online brain-training games were developing skills that helped them to improve at the games themselves due to repetition as opposed to actually displaying any real improvement in overall intelligence including problem-solving, reading ability and comprehension, mathematics, and adapting to different scenarios and situations which require a broader range of intelligence.

Psychologist David Z Hambrick was not at all surprised by the results, having agreed with the findings of other psychologists in that brain-training games may help people improve in the games the more that they play them but doesn’t help them in anything that is of any real significance.

Dr Adam Hampshire, developer of the Cambridge Brain Sciences concept which is a web-based series of tests designed to assess cognitive function, believes that more research is required to be able to fully analyse just how effective brain-training programmes truly are, if at all. Hampshire recently made public his research showing that those who had taken the tests and had done brain-training regularly had not shown any edge as compared to those who did not do brain-training.

Despite research and the questioning of its true effectiveness, this is highly unlikely to deter current product-makers and companies from continuously marketing their brain-training programmes to customers worldwide. Whether purchasers of the products see any noticeable improvement or not in their intelligence and overall senses as the marketing may imply will continuously be up for debate. Rapidly rising revenue and sales in the brain-training industry certainly sees no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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