Some excellent articles on the neurobollocks of brain training

Another short post just to link to a couple of articles on the brain-training trend, and why it’s all highly suspicious.

First up is a really good piece in the New Yorker titled ‘Brain games are bogus’. The piece mostly focuses on CogMed (who are currently launching programs in American schools) and has some good, and damning, quotes from independent researchers who work in the area of working memory.

This post on the Computing for Psychologists blog mentions another company called LearningRX who are also making a play for a slice of the lucrative education sector.

Finally, this blog post focuses on Lumosity, which is perhaps the most well-known (and well-marketed) online brain-training service.

All three articles make very good points, which I won’t bother to repeat here, but the upshot is that brain training is (very likely) bogus. The science behind it is shaky at best, and these companies cannot possibly deliver on the promises they make in their slick marketing videos, like this one:

*Uncontrollable projectile vomiting* Urgh. For God’s sake, just take the ten hours you’d spend pointlessly clicking buttons on the Lumosity website and use it to read a book instead. Science, history, fiction, anything… you’ll get more ‘brain training’ out of that than anything these jokers can produce with their ‘science of neuroplasticity’ and their self-consciously quirky hipster hand-drawn graphics and carefully selected not-too-hot-and-not-too-geeky-looking fresh-faced spokesmodel from central casting.

Except if it’s something by Stephanie Meyer. Seriously, don’t read those Twilight things. They’re adolescent fucking garbage.

10 responses to “Some excellent articles on the neurobollocks of brain training

  1. Yup. As with any other experiment, choice of the control is crucial. Given the same amount of time (and money if we want to be rigorous) there are likely many other activities that would produce the same or better benefits. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, reading books, learning a new skill, perhaps even a gentle walk and some fresh air, all might prove to be better uses of the time on brain and general health.

  2. Good stuff! Neurobollocks seem like mostly snake oil!

    But…how do you square this with the idea that cognitive activity is related to, say, reduced risk of dementia? Perhaps there are long-term benefits to mental activity? Do you think the studies of brain training really rule out the possibility of cognitive improvement? That’s a somewhat depressing thought — though of course it could well be true!

    (e.g. )

    • Hi Han,

      I don’t think anything is ruled out at the moment, really. I think there’s evidence that these things might be able to help with specific groups or specific conditions (e.g. older adults, stroke rehabilitation, chemo- or radio-therapy related cognitive problems etc.). However, I also think there’s nothing particularly special about these programs – that similar results might be achieved with crossword puzzles, reading books, playing the piano, playing action video games, or whatever. Also, seeing effects in particular patient groups is one thing; making the average (healthy) person ‘smarter’ is quite another.

      The central problem for me is that what the brain training companies are currently claiming their programs can do is wildly out of sync with what can actually be proved.

      • Right! It’s actually a fairly subtle point. I hope the backlash doesn’t lead to cynicism about educating poor or challenged students!

  3. How is it only now that I’ve found you!?

  4. Pingback: You keep using this word ‘neuroplasticity’. I do not think it means what you think it means. | NeuroBollocks

  5. Pingback: Brain training | Spelfabet

  6. I work in this field as a neurologist and there is value in using digital products for brain training as visual training will stimulate the midline cerebellum, however many people forget that movement is key as well it uses the cortex and the intermediate and opposite lateral cerebellum, which are of course key in cognition. This is an interesting topic and am enjoying the posts

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