So, does brain training really work? I have posted on this topic previously. Basically, the answer is still “no.” There are many claims (still) about various techniques, approaches, and technologies (including Lumosity) with the promise of improving our memory, processing speed, and various other cognitive abilities. Brain training and Lumosity have been linked together for some time now. Basically, companies such as Lumosity have claimed to make us smarter. Another claim that we frequently see is that their product or intervention can ward off Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and/or age-related memory declines. We all would like that, right? I mean, who doesn’t want to become smarter and remain mentally sharp until their last days? It’s a nice idea, but the science just doesn’t support that brain boosters such as Lumosity work at this time. We might improve in specific games or tasks, but the problem is that whatever gains we might make don’t seem to generalize into our daily lives.
For example, one can improve at remembering a sequence of digits through the practice of various techniques. The typical person might only be able to hold around 7 digits in short-term (or working) memory immediately after hearing the sequence of digits presented to them orally. With practice (and a technique called chunking), people can learn to remember a series of digits dozens of numerals long. However, an improvement such as this doesn’t translate into a better memory in day-to-day life (e.g., remembering the name of an actor he/she sees in a movie).
You might have read this recently, but Lumosity, the company that made a name for itself based on brain training, recently had to pay a $2 million settlement with the Federal Trade Committee for, in part, deceptive advertising. To quote from the link to the FTC article, “The creators and marketers of the Lumosity ‘brain training’ program have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges alleging that they deceived consumers with unfounded claims that Lumosity games can help users perform better at work and in school, and reduce or delay cognitive impairment associated with age and other serious health conditions.”
Now, it may very well be that the researchers and scientists at Lumosity had great intentions, but they ended up putting the cart before the horse when it comes to the benefits of brain training.
I love the quote from Carl Sagan that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” When it comes to claims about brain training or other interventions designed to boost IQ or cure disabilities such as dyslexia, autism, and ADHD, EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE is required. Moreover, the evidence cannot come from the folks who are selling the product or service in question. It needs to be independent research published in a major peer-reviewed journal, AND it should be replicated. The more extraordinary the claim, the more that well-controlled, independent research needs to be conducted to verify those claims.
So, if you are looking to boost IQ, attention, mood, and productivity, the best bets are not very “sexy,” I’m afraid. For some reason, we humans are drawn to the latest interventions and big promises. Perhaps some of these companies play on both our hopes and fears. Yet, our best bets to ensure that we, and our kids, are functionally optimally, include the basics, such as:
- Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night for adults, 8-11 hours for most kids and teens.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Avoid or limit refined foods and simple carbohydrates.
- Exercise regularly (at least 30 minutes per day).
- Avoid being sedentary – get at least 10,000 steps per day. One hour at the gym does not make up for a sedentary lifestyle. We were not meant to sit as much as do.
- Spend quality time with friends and in socializing IN PERSON – NOT just through texting or social media.
- Get outdoors on a daily (or at least regular) basis – nature walks, hikes, etc.
In life, it is best to “pick the low hanging fruit.” We need to ensure that we are maxing out the benefits from the basics before we begin to look at other options to improve our functioning. Then, when we do look at those options, remember that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.