Brain training games have recently become all the rage. Arguably beginning with Nintendo’s Brain Games on the Nintendo DS, they are now found everywhere – from the Apple and Android App stores to the internet. And perhaps the biggest success in all of this is the sprawling website and franchise of apps and software ‘Lumosity’. But what is Lumosity, and does it really do what it claims to do? Here we will look at the brain training website, how it operates and whether it works.
What Is Lumosity?
Essentially Lumosity is a website that is filled with various brain training games. It is perhaps the leading source for online brain training games, and as well as the games themselves it also has a lot of other services such as the ability to create a profile and track your progress that gives it the feel of a social networking site but for the brain. The games themselves are simple but addictive and split into categories that are designed to target: speed, attention, memory, problem solving and flexibility respectively. One of the big selling points of the Lumosity package is that the games were reportedly designed with the help of neuroscientists presumably lending it some scientific credibility in the eyes of potential users. Here we will look at whether the games actually work, how they work, and whether you’d do just as well to play Mario.
While the site boasts that it is devised in part by neuroscientists, the science it’s based on is still not 100% proven. While studies have been carried out on brain training games, there is as yet no conclusive evidence that brain training games are any more effective than a game of football for your brain development – and it’s important to bear that in mind before you buy into what’s on the site.
If you click on the ‘science’ tab on the website then the site uses some research to support the effectiveness of the games and this is based around ‘neuroplasticity’. Neuroplasticity is the relatively recent discovery that the brain, much like a muscle, can change shape and adapt to the challenges it is faced with. In other words, if you use a particular part of your brain enough or a particular skill, then that part of the brain will grow larger and you will get better at that skill. An example of this is taxi drivers who famously have larger brains due to their having to remember so many different routes around an area and then recall them at a moment’s notice. A handy diagram demonstrates how the brains of taxi drivers are physically bigger, and particularly in the anterior left hemisphere. (More recent research still has demonstrated that ‘neurogenesis’ is also possible in adults – previously only thought to be possible in children, though the site does not mention this potentially relevant area).
That said – that’s taxi driving – it’s not brain training. And whether a few hours a day playing brain training games would be enough to have a similar effect on different parts of the brain is uncertain.
The site does illustrate a study on the ‘Dual N-Back’ test which demonstrated how fluid intelligence could seemingly be improved. However the study was not without potential problems, and at the same time it doesn’t demonstrate that the Dual N-Back test would be any more effective than practicing chess or a game of memory.
In other words, while there is faintly some evidence that training the brain can be effective (which we intuitively would have expected), the ‘science’ used on the site is a little bit self-serving and only presents one side of the story (as you would expect, to be fair). In particular the claim that a team of neuroscientists helped work on the games is especially suspect – it’s somewhat unlikely that they would have anything significant to contribute other than the vague notion that practicing a skill should make it better.
But why be so harsh on the site? These brain training games cause you to use particular skills that are transferable to other abilities, and this should show improvement in your memory, focus and other abilities – so does it matter whether the results are truly unique or developed by neuroscientists?
Well unfortunately the answer is yes when you consider that there’s a price tag attached to the site which is somewhat steep bearing in mind that you can get much more creative games on your phone completely free. While it’s possible to play some of the games for free, if you want to get the monthly subscription then you’re looking at around $14.95 per month for the opportunity to play the games and track your progress.
That said many of these games are well designed and fun, and the ability to track your progress and interact with a community gives the offer added depth. These are games that can be picked up by adults or children, and many of them are very interesting and fun while giving you insightful feedback. As a series of fun games with a potential benefit to your brain the site does do what it promises – it just also makes some unsupported claims and asks for quite a bit of money in return.
In conclusion if you think this is something you will genuinely use regularly then you don’t stand to lose anything by trying the 14 day trial and seeing if you enjoy the games – and it is possible to cancel the subscription at any time. That said though, if you are hoping to see your brain get sharper and more intelligent over night then you’re chasing a rainbow – and there’s no reason you can’t train your brain in many other far more cost effective ways. If you do a challenging job, or have a hobby, then this will train your brain in a whole variety of ways and there’s no certainty that doing some games at the end of the day will be any more productive than any other activity for further brain development.
Other Ways to Train Your Brain
Want to take advantage of that brain plasticity but don’t fancy signing your life away? Fortunately there are many other methods you can use to challenge your attention, recall and nonverbal reasoning. In any case this will help you to improve your recall and attention and can even slow down age related cognitive decline. Here are some suggestions:
Playing chess with friends challenges your ability to plan ahead and hold information in your brain, and studies have demonstrated its ability to help elderly individuals keep their mental dexterity for longer.
Just reading trains attention and focus and helps increase your knowledge and long term memory.
Take Different Routes Home
Bearing in mind what we mentioned about taxi drivers, it’s clear that learning multiple routes around your area can help brain development, so this is a great way to build up more neural connections. Meanwhile seeing unique scenes can also help your brain to stay young and flexible.
Nintendo Brain Training
For a one off payment you can get a second hand package of games that are more involving and have all the same optimistic promises as Lumosity.
Other Computer Games
Meanwhile a range of other games can challenge and improve spacial awareness, timing, focus, memory, lateral thinking and more. Some are more helpful than others, but anything that provides a challenge will work some part of your brain.
Doing increasingly difficult maths is completely free and more challenging than the majority of challenges you’ll find on Lumosity.
There are countless free Android and Apple apps you can download that also promise brain training advantages.
Likewise you can find lots of great flash games that improve recall and attention and these are completely free often too.
Programming is one of the best activities for training your brain requiring lateral thinking as well as logical thinking. It’s also a highly useful ability and if you create useful applications you can make money from them.