Brain Training Games Don’t Work? — Study Says They’re Just A Placebo

Many companies claim you can improve your mental faculties just by playing games. But, it turns out that everything from Lumosity.com to NeuroNation to the Brain Age video games could be totally bogus, according to a recent study that suggests the positive results of brain training games are all in your head.

According to the Verge, the research was conducted by cognitive scientists at George Mason University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday. The team set out to determine if brain training games legitimately sharpen the functions of the mind, or if they’re all just a placebo, improving functionality only because people believe they will.

The researchers gathered a sample of students using two different flyers. One flyer requested volunteers for “Brain Training & Cognitive Enhancement,” promising improved memory and increased “fluid intelligence.” It also claimed that studies have found a positive correlation between brain training games and mental sharpness. The other flyer simply asked for students to participate in a “study,” with no mention of scientifically-supported benefits.

brain training games
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The researchers then selected 25 students, who volunteered via each flyer, and gave them identical tests to determine their reasoning and problem-solving skills. Next, the 50 volunteers underwent an hour of cognitive “brain training” games, half believing it would improve their “fluid intelligence” and half expecting nothing special from the training. Finally, all fifty students re-took the test to see if their reasoning and problem-solving had improved.

Those who have fallen for “brain training” claims may be shocked by the results. The students who underwent the hour of brain training expecting “cognitive enhancement” had significantly improved test results. The students who weren’t promised any mental benefits did no better on the second test than the first.

Basically, volunteers who expected to get smarter after the brain training games did so, and by a factor of five to 10 IQ points — all because of what a flyer told them. This suggests brain training games are just a placebo and nothing more. Your mind tricks you into trying harder, because you believe you should be smarter.

“It’s strong evidence that it wasn’t really a true training effect,” said study author Cyrus Foroughi.

This isn’t the first time companies that provide brain training have been called out for false advertising. As previously reported by the Inquisitr, Lumosity was slapped with a $2 million fine for guarantees of mental improvement that didn’t really deliver. Despite this pricey settlement, other sites and services have continued to make similar claims. Perhaps the George Mason University study will begin to spread the word that brain training games are probably just a placebo and not worth your time or money.

According to Cosmos, the study authors insisted that their research doesn’t definitively prove that all brain training games are phony. The scientists simply found reason to believe that positive results from brain training games could be a result of positive expectations. If a clear distinction between brain training and increased fluid intelligence is to be found, Foroughi says there will have to be a lot more research to prove it.

“If you do find a way to actually increase intelligence, it’s a fantastic finding. I just don’t think the science is quite there yet.”

The study could be criticized for having a small sample size and for inadvertently recruiting volunteers who are already susceptible to the placebo effect, due to the nature of the flyer.

What do you think? Have you tried brain training games before? Did they seem to work for you, or do you believe it was all just a placebo?

[Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images, Hulton Archive/Getty Images]