You might think that those online brain training games make you smarter, but they’re more likely just fun ways to waste time. According to a new study by cognitive neuroscientist Bobby Stojanoski of Western University in Ontario, there is no link between playing online brain games and improved cognitive abilities.
Researchers asked study participants to fill out an online questionnaire to determine opinions about brain training benefits, brain training habits, and any programs used for brain training. They then completed 12 cognitive tests to assess memory, reasoning skills, and verbal skills. Regardless of demographics like age, education, or socioeconomic status, and regardless of the brain training program used, researchers did not find evidence of a causal connection between cognition games and improved or otherwise enhanced memory or other cognitive activities.
Prior to Stojanoski’s results, some researchers had found there was no evidence that brain trainers are not effective — though the double negative here does not cancel out. As those researchers point out, the multi-billion dollar brain training industry leverages the belief that ‘no evidence trainers aren’t effective’ equates to effectiveness. A central worry is that those making money from brain training programs exaggerate the modest claims researchers have made, which can undercut trust in actual benefits. On the one hand, recent FDA approval of video game treatment for children with ADHD suggests the enthusiasm is not misplaced. On the other hand, the vast majority of consumer apps have not undergone any scientific vetting.
Scientists may move toward consensus about brain trainers as questions about the specific benefit for a defined demographic become increasingly precise. Meanwhile, even if they don’t make us smarter, brain trainers are still fun.