Tag Archives: Lumosity

You keep using this word ‘neuroplasticity’. I do not think it means what you think it means.


So, I wanted to write a post about how the word ‘neuroplasticity’ is  the current neuro-bullshitter’s favourite big sciencey-sounding word to throw around these days. I was going to explain how it was actually such a broad umbrella term as to be pretty meaningless, and talk about some things like LTP and synaptogenesis in the hippocampus which (in contrast) are precise, well-defined terms, and fascinating processes, and how your brain is changing in a ‘plastic’ manner even as you read these words. It was really going to be a great post.

Unfortunately (as so often seems to happen), it turns out that the mighty Vaughan Bell beat me to it by a scant three years with this typically outstanding post on mindhacks.com. So. I guess you should all just go and read that instead, and I’ll have to be content with my standard operating procedure and take the piss out of some quacks instead.

The ‘About the Science’ section of the Brain Balance Centers main website has some awesomely meaningless language, that manages to work in some other big sciencey-sounding word too:

“It was once thought that the brain was static, unable to grow or change. But extensive research and in depth study of epigenetics has shown that it’s remarkably adaptable, able to create new neural pathways in response to stimulus in the environment, a branch of science called neuroplasticity.”

Ooh – epigenetics, and neural pathways. Fans of meaningless brain cartoons should definitely check out that site too, their disconnected vs. connected diagram is fabulous.

The Lumosity website (a brain-training company) has some pretty choice language too:

“But when neuroplasticity’s potential is thoughtfully and methodically explored, this physical reorganization can make your brain faster and more efficient at performing all manner of tasks.”

There are lots of other examples I could paste in here. I spend a fair amount of time looking at these companies’ sites and I’ve come to the conclusion that any mention of the word ‘neuroplasticity’ is basically a massive red-flag. People are very fond of using it to promote these things, but mostly their arguments boil down to “Because: neuroplasticity!”, which as Vaughan explained so eloquently, doesn’t mean anything at all without a whole additional layer of explanation, refinement and qualification.

So – a top tip, when you see the word ‘neuroplasticity’ think ‘bollocks’ instead.  99% of the time you’ll be absolutely dead-on.

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.