Brain-Training Games Won't Boost Your IQ
The Games May Be Fun, but Study Shows Players' Cognitive Abilities Don't Improve
WebMD News Archive
April 20, 2010 -- Think brain training will make you smarter? Think again!
New research in Nature shows that the brain-training games played by
millions of people don't boost IQ.
In the study of more than 11,400 healthy adults, those who played
brain-training games did get better at the specific tasks involved in the
games, such as solving mathematical problems, but these improvements did not
transfer into any other general mental abilities.
"I was surprised to find that millions of people are in involved in these
activities, but there was very little solid, peer-reviewed scientific evidence
that shows it works," says Adrian M. Owen, PhD, a neuroscientist and assistant
director of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brain Sciences
Unit in Cambridge, England, in a telephone news conference. "If you are doing
it for fun, it's fine, but if you expect improvements in your IQ or general
function, our data suggests they will not make you any smarter overall."
Brain Training Study
In the experiment, which was launched by a BBC science show called Bang
Goes the Theory, participants were placed into one of three groups after
taking an online test to serve as a benchmark of their mental skills. People in
one group honed their reasoning skills with brain-training games aimed at
improving planning and problem-solving ability. Participants in another group
played brain-training games designed to sharpen their short-term memory,
attention, mathematical abilities, and visual-spatial skills. A comparison
group was asked to answer general knowledge questions by surfing the
Participants were asked to train for 10 minutes a day, three days a week for
six weeks, but many put in even more time.
None of the brain-training tasks transferred into improvements in any other
mental abilities. The participants did get better in the specific tests that
they practiced, and the more they trained, the better they got in these
specific tasks, the study showed.
"Even for the people that trained more than average, there was still no
translation to any general improvement in cognitive function," says study
researcher Jessica A. Grahn, PhD, also with MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences
Unit, during the telephone news conference. "Some of things they were
practicing, like getting faster at math, may be useful in and of itself. But if
you are [brain training] to see a generalized improvement in overall function,
the evidence does not support it."
The new findings only apply to healthy adults who use these games to boost
their general cognitive ability, not individuals with Alzheimer's disease or
other cognitive disorders. "These results do not speak to Alzheimer's disease,"
Jane Martin, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the
Neuropsychological Testing and Evaluation Center at New York's Mount Sinai
Medical Center, says that "if someone has real cognitive impairment, we don't
know that any of these games will help, and they can become very frustrated
because they may think they will improve and they may not."
But brain training may play a small role in helping people with healthy
brains stay sharp. "It can't hurt, and there is really no downside," she