Effectiveness of Online Brain Training Games

You have not doubt seen one of the commercials over the last few years for one of the many services that supply users with online games that supposedly exercise the brain. The services typically tout the science of neuroplasticity, the area of research that explores the brain’s ability to increase its memory retention, attention span, creativity, as well as language and thinking skills. Yet just how effective are these games? Do their claims hold any validity? New research suggests that many of the games provide little benefit to their users.

In a special health report issued by the Harvard Medical School titled “Improving Memory: Understanding Age-Related Memory Loss”, doctors found that people who played these games did in fact improve in the tasks that they practised daiily. However, few of these skills translated into an improvement in their day to day lives. That is, the games did not seem to improve their overall thinking skills, focus and attention, memory or language skills.

A 2010 study, the results of which were published in the journal Nature, involved over 11,400 men and women between the ages of 16 and 60. Each of them were assigned one of three online brain training programs, one focusing on reasoning, one was primarily concerned with planning and problem solving, and the third required users to conduct research online in order to answer obscure question. The study found that after 6 weeks, the first and second group had continually boosted their scores in their assigned tasks, yet they nevertheless demonstrated no improvement in test for overall memory and thinking skills.

A particularly interesting study was conducted and published by one of the largest companies behind the emergence of online neuroplasticity training – PosiT Science, the creator of Brain Fitness Program. In the study, 487 people over the age of 65 were split into 2 groups. Half participated in the company’s regular 40 hour-long online games program, and the other group, the control group, watched educational DVDs, the contents of which they were later quizzed on. The result was that the group using the online software boosted their memory and attention scores much higher than the control group. Yet when it came to the subjects reporting what, if any improvement they experienced in everyday situations, the results were almost identical. The study seems to reinforce the findings that improvements gained from online games cannot be easily transferred to offline life.

It’s worth noting some of the limitations of these studies. For instance, none of the research published to date has taken into account the effect of games that continually increase the level of difficulty as the player improves their skills. Also, none of the games researched were those based on neurofeedback, were the brain activity of the player is monitored so that they can learn to develop patterns in their thinking. But it would seem that overall, these games cannot improve your memory and executive thinking processes.

The best exercises an individual can do to bolster their mental ability remain those which cost a lot less than a monthly membership to one of these online services. Learning a new language or how to play a musical instruments are among the best. Juggling has shown to stretch the brain in several areas including hand-eye coordination and timing. And social games played with others such as cards, chess, and puzzles have proven to have tremendous benefit.