Does Lumosity Work?

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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.

The Science

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.

The Package

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:

Chess

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.

Reading

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.

Maths

Doing increasingly difficult maths is completely free and more challenging than the majority of challenges you’ll find on Lumosity.

Android/Apple Apps

There are countless free Android and Apple apps you can download that also promise brain training advantages.

The Net

Likewise you can find lots of great flash games that improve recall and attention and these are completely free often too.

Programming

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.

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Stanley C Loewen

52 comments

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  • The article is not substantiated by studies or research. The article's lack of citations shows it relies solely on the lazy cynicism. In other words, it is junk. You should delete it and replace it with a more solid article on the subject.

  • Really nice article. You cited a lot of valid points. Don't listen to the first commenter for he might be just an affiliate to that Lumoshitty thing.

  • I liked this article. This seemed very unbiased and practical. Some of others I have read on the net are not quite so. Thanks!

  • While you state that lumositys' method is not really giving and effect by lacking data that it is beneficial you can't prove any data which shows that it's not beneficial so that's vice versa and you can't really blame them without any evidence to be fair, but yes you made all the logical points you can think of reading a bit of their site.

  • This article was an excellent read considering I happen to be a first time visitor at both Lumosity and yours! I'm glad that I took the extra step of clicking on the 'Next Page' link after I searched for lumosity on Google, otherwise I would have probably missed out on these insights. I am a very poor decision maker about a lot of things. Having played the initial few levels at lumosity did make me think whether it would be worthwhile spending on a subscription there. But this article sure did clear a lot of doubts and whether I go for the subscription or not, this article would surely have a say in my final decision! Loved it!

  • You even counter yourself, you claim programming, chess etc can help improve one's brain, don't you see that games on Lumosity will really task your brain better than these ones you listed? I am a programmer and I could see a very huge increase in my reasoning and processing. So I believe any task that stresses your brain with work.

  • I agree that Lumosity uses the available research to sell its product. Most of the research available though is not conclusive. The only real conclusive study on increasing fluid intelligence is the Jaeggi study on Dual N Back and some of the later studies on it has even less promising results.

    My problem with the article though is that you are clearly biased against Lumosity while holding an optimistic view toward these free alternatives which you claim work (better) (even if Lumosity incorporates a lot of these).

    As it stands now Dual N Back is the only definitive way of improving your mind. Working memory and fluid intelligence transfers to other tasks. Playing a specific game only improves your skill at that task.

    My opinion on the matter is to try Lumosity for yourself and see if it provides improvement in the areas you need.

  • I thought that this article was patronizing. Why would they not sight the research that has been done? That would be really helpful. Also, I think that the game sites have a variety of types of intelligence whereas chess only sites a couple of types. I am considering Luminosity yet I found this article totally unhelpful in assessing it.

  • I think the author effectively presented both sides of the coin. The only bias I could detect was toward the monthly cost of the Lumosity program. The author suggested that one might get the same benefit from less costly alternatives whose benefits are as supportable as those found in Lumosity. I've tried the 14-day trial and the games are fun. There is sufficient motivation through tracking your progress to continue using the service. However, I've heard for years that cross-word puzzles, Soduku, doing things with your non-dominate hand, even travelling different routes to the same destination have a similar effect. Probably, just challenging habits so you are not on auto-pilot all the time does a lot of good. (Sorry, no citation available here.)

  • I am grateful for the straightforward, balanced, and thoughtful review. Rare now-a-days. Will make me look further into HealthGuidance.

  • Lumosity does work your brain, but remember there is countless other ways you can work your brain. Lumosity wants you to pay money for a site with brain training games, but why pay when it can be for FREE 🙂

  • Great article. I can't believe these people are actually charging money for flash games!!! It is really outrageous. This is a scam just like the thousands of others we are barraged with on a daily basis. Do not be fooled.

  • I think Lumosity is a great website to train your brain!, I just signed up recently and I thought it was fun and challenging like Chess, and math solving problems, you need to go use this website 3-5 each week in order to see real performance and I recommend people sighing u for this…

  • I find Lumosity does not consider that an 85 year old when in HS did not learn to type unless you chose to be a secretary etc… I never had the need to type and with the advent of computers I get by with one finger and hunt and peck which slow me down responding to some of these puzzles. Please take that into consideration.

  • An ok article but of course there are cheaper ways to do things. Here you pay for the structure and tracking but you can always mess around on the internet and find free stuff. Lumosity seems like a structured quality product to me which you have to pay for if you want to use it.

  • I found this article very useful since it not only questioned Lumosity's claims but also provided me with alternatives to the site which are free and just as/more effective for brain training. Excellent!

  • Sounds like you're just mad that Lumosity is making money.

    So I can pay Nintendo for their brain age but I shouldn't pay Lumosity for theirs?

    I use Lumosity and it does help.

  • Although, I found this article really interesting and helpful but Lumosity helps keep track of your progress; essentially what you are really paying for, apart from the games/articles [similar games/articles can be found online free for sure]. Tracking the progress, will surely help boost confidence. And frankly, I'm sure there must be some psychologist out there who might understand what I intent to say, just by looking at the improvement over time it will also make the person believe that his/her brain activity is really improving. So what I really mean is that although there are many other ways to keep your brain active and increase cognitive abilities, Lumosity is an effective way to keep track and see noticeable improvement.

  • Excellent article and very true in regards to Lumosity. Lumosity and any other digital based game makes a great profit model (write once, sell a million) but very ineffective at creating positive fluid intelligence gains. This is because we are analog, not digital beings. The more types of stimuli the faster and deeper the neuronal growth. That's why the taxi drivers brains changed so significantly – do they really think that using Google maps all day long will make the same changes? There is only one brain training program which has produced positive real world performance improvements in as little as 6 hrs in 100% of participants (from SEALs to Snipers to pro athletes to business people to kids with learning disabilities and TBI) but it is purely interactive and analog based. Information can be found at combatbraintraining.com. And yes, it's my program and I will be happy to answer any questions about it for you as well as beat the pants off of Lumosity or any other digital based program.

  • This article seems a fair commentary on Luminosity. The point at which it falls short is to say that neuroscientists would not have anything to offer other than a vague notion. Neuroscience is teaching us the effects of neurotransmitters on brain growth and how to stimulate these chemical reactions and optimise their effects. Acetylcholine, dopamine, norepinephrine…. where would we be without you?!

  • A pretty fair evaluation that only lacks a bit of depth for those who are getting older (forgetful, etc) and might profit from regular brain exercise. Thanks!

  • It would seem that your article has no more basis in "science" then the lumonosity site does. So why should your "advice" be given credit. Because it's free?

  • I used to work with Lumosity. The games are really cool and fun. But so are the ones on my phone. Sorry can't see any real progress outside of getting better at… well Lumosity games. Mindri is a bit more intimate and focused. It has trained professionals following my work and hitting those little areas of focus which improved my focus and attention at work.

  • My father had Alzheimer's and because of that and the fact that I am 68 years old and single, I am worried every time I forget ANYTHING, so, I am looking for brain exercises, but being on social security, I am very concerned with expenses.

  • Great article! I was surprised to see that learning another language didn't make the list of ways to 'train your brain'. Published, peer-reviewed studies from Penn State, University of Chicago, Illinois State and others have shown numerous benefits to being bilingual, including scoring better on standardized tests, better multitasking and decision-making skills, and protecting against cognitive decline in older age (a concept known as ‘cognitive reserve’).

    As far as Lumosity is concerned, the burden of proof doesn't lie on the author of this article. He is merely pointing out that evidence that Lumosity's training regimen 'improves cognitive ability' is thin at best.

  • Since last week, I started Lumosity (free account). Most studies on Lumosity are kinda suspicious. But, games are decent fun and good to play with for 10 min on train/bus.

  • Well said. Luminosity does not have a monopoly on training the brain. Games and exercises in thinking gets you better with the particular games and exercises you train in. There is no evidence that it increases your IQ. London Taxis drivers might be very good in knowing the streets of London. But there is no evidence that they get better on their IQ scores. Neuroplasticity is a nice sounding idea. There is no convincing evidence though that this idea means we can improve our IQ in anyway. We can maximize our thinking potential by improving our health in general through lifestyle change like getting better sleep and nutrition and more exercise.

  • The article seem to be fair. It shows both the upside and downside of the focus topic, but it also gives suggestions that could be employed to achieve the same results. I found it very helpful.

    Thanks,

  • I found Lumosity's games very interesting and funny. I really love it and it works, but it cost too much. Notice it, you can play three free games per one training (day). I found maybe one or two games from this sites in other websites and many similar games. I want to buy access for this games on L, but 14$ per month it is quite expensive for me.

  • Good to know, a bit expensive… will do various games with playing cards, Newspaper crosswords, word search, n physical,exercise, proper nutrition n sleep and prayers for a cure… Thank you!

  • My husband had a stroke and has Aphasia and the use of Lumosity have given him the means to exercise his mind daily on his own. I believe it can be a very good tool for specific uses.

  • This article addressed some of my concerns and raised even more questions for me to consider. Thank you for your "to the point" article.

Stanley C Loewen

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