Are Cognitive Brain Games Nothing More Than A Placebo? [Study]

Patrick Frye - Author

Jun. 22 2016, Updated 10:26 a.m. ET

Cognitive brain games could be nothing but a placebo, according to a recent study. What are they though? Some in the console gaming crowd call them casual, and include games like Tetris, Breakout, Solitaire, and the many variations on these.

For a long time, it was believed that playing these games was actually strengthening the cognitive abilities of the gamer. Previous studies had pointed to improved brain activity and a boost in the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) by as much as ten points after an hour playing these games.

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Now it appears that the intelligence boosting effect may be little more than the gamer wanting it to work. Of course, it might also be the intent with which the gamer plays. Some of them had been going in not believing anything would happen, and it didn’t. This is just like those pills doctors tend to push which often simply have sugar in them. They look just like the medication they come with, but the brain believes it’s the same thing.


The new study at George Mason University invited gamers to participate for different reasons. One flyer stated that the games would boost their IQ by up to ten points. The second only said it would gain them bonus credit. By the end of the test, both groups actually only gained what they went for. The group answering the second flyer had no boost at all.

Research expert Cyrus Foroughi had effectively proven that the brain games were nothing but games in the end. Tetris and other puzzle games might be just as brain boosting as Assassin’s Creed or Fallout.

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This might also be the result of a form of apathy toward the end result, or a kind of mental resistance. By the end, it seemed the mere suggestion which proved a certain fluidity to a person’s IQ. It might be 91 on Monday, and drop to 88 after a day of relaxing. The results aren’t permanent, and can fluctuate, according to Foroughi’s study.

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Many websites have gained a regular income by offering a selection of cognitive brain games to improve mental abilities. Lumosity and similar programs may have been unknowingly profiting off our ignorance the whole time.

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Some who had purchased programs like them in the past sued the companies early this year, claiming that the money was poorly spent because the cognitive brain games really hadn’t done anything.

The same boost has been experienced from other activities such as Yoga meditation and even so-called brain foods. Similar things could be said about many common beliefs these days. Often, your brain feels stimulated just because you want it to.

It’s important to remember that the study is inconclusive, and many more like it need to happen before it can be considered a fact. Many theories in science have been formed this way, such as evolution, gravity, and the expansion of the universe. They are widely believed to be true because many attempts to disprove them have failed.

There might still be a way to boost intelligence through a game, but Cyrus Foroughi of George Mason University doesn’t believe science has found it yet.

If cognitive brain games work for you, and you find them enjoyable, keep it up. It may be a placebo, but you’re getting something from it.


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