Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on April 25, 2016

Sources

Eric Schumacher, PhD Associate Professor of Psychology, Georgia Tech School of Psychology.

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Video Transcript

Narrator: What if there were exercises for your brain that could make you smarter? The billion-dollar brain training industry claims that their games are designed to do just that. The Imaging Center at GA Tech is doing a study to put those claims to the test.

Eric Schumacher, PhD: The particular experiment we’re running involves multiple phases. The first step, participants come into the laboratory and we collect a number of assessments. We assess their memory, we assess their cognitive control, we assess their fluid intelligence. It also involves for some subset of the subjects, collecting brain activity. So we have people in the MRI machine and we measure their brain activity as they’re performing a number of kinds of tasks, then engage working memory and cognitive control. After that they undergo some kinds of training for about a month, where they play various kinds of games or meditate and then they come back and we collect those assessments again. So the measure of benefit is identifying how much their cognition has improved from the pre-test to the post-test, before training to after training.

Narrator: Not only does he collect data throughout the process, he’s giving the brain a little shock to the system.

Employee: These are the electrodes. Putting some saline solution on them now…

Eric Schumacher, PhD: Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation involves applying a low level of electrical stimulation through an electrode on the scalp. As the electricity goes through the brain, it changes the way the neurons or brain cells fire. By changing the way they fire, we may change the efficiency of the brain networks involved. We place the electrodes over brain regions we think are involved in working memory or cognitive control and so by stimulating the brain as subjects are playing these games, we may increase the effect of training. The benefit of brain stimulation is yet to be determined, but you don’t have to be at the lab to see results. All your brain needs is a little more play time. Most brain training programs use similar sets of tasks. First person shooter games also use working memory and attention and they have been shown to improve cognition. Crossword puzzles and Sudoku and engaging in social interactions also engage working memory and these are likely also to lead to benefits in cognition. One of the best things people can do is aerobic exercise. There’s lots of evidence to suggest that aerobic exercises, exercise changes the brain, causes changes in the brain that slow the decline of age and improve cognition.