I told you so... Brain Games suck

I love 'I told you so' moments...Brain games don't do shit.


(this is totally going to come back and bite me in the ass though)

A number of months ago, I made a claim that paying for brain games was a waste of money. I got jumped on pretty hard for that claim - even though there isn't much evidence of their benefits except for perform the brain game itself better after a lot of practice (and maybe a couple other semi-related ones). I've been vindicated now by a meta-analysis of the relevant literature by Peter Snyder of the Brown med school.

Check this out from the press release:

Through a systematic review of literature using established techniques to analyze randomized controlled trials of cognitive interventions in the healthy elderly, the researchers found a very small number of studies that met their criteria. What studies did meet their criteria they found to be limited in their methodologies or were often lacking in follow-up. Based on this quantitative literature review, called a meta-analysis, they concluded that there was no evidence indicating that structured cognitive intervention programs had an impact on the progression of dementia in the healthy elderly population.

And this snippit hinting at my opinions of some of the brain training crowd (dishonest business people taking advantage of the elderly).

Snyder and the researchers conclude, "Evidence-based information regarding cognitive intervention in healthy elderly needs to be gathered and presented clearly to both the scientific community and our vulnerable elderly population. More random clinical trials in cognitive training need to be conducted with sufficient follow-up time that can actually measure changes in daily functioning. Only in that way will we know if such exercises are effective in slowing the progress of MCI."

Anyway... check out the press release and let me know what you think.

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I can't comment on the article because it's in a journal that my current employer doesn't have access to (though we generally have very good journal access). Without some understanding of criteria for meta-data inclusion and the authors' metrics for success, I can't evaluate the findings. Do you have access to the source article or are you just drawing your conclusions based on a press release?

Congratulations on a prescient "Brain games don't do shit"...only a few days after this Science paper:

Fiona McNab, Andrea Varrone, Lars Farde, Aurelija Jucaite, Paulina Bystritsky, Hans Forssberg and Torkel Klingberg. Changes in Cortical Dopamine D1 Receptor Binding Associated with Cognitive Training. Science, 6 February 2009.

Which of course is not surprise, building on previous papers. Now, the problem seems to be (and the same with the study you mention), is that we need a common taxonomy so we can all discuss something more intelligent than the equivalent of "cars don't work because they don't fly".

Can we try to better define
- "brain games"
- "do"
- "shit"

Yes, of course more research is needed, and more transparency, and a common taxonomy (we are mixing targeted cognitive enhancement with Alzheimer's prevention, which are separate animals), and better assessments. But the point here is, there is already emerging evidence that for specific groups of people learning and using new tools seem to be better that what those people are doing today -namely, crossword puzzles. Have you perhaps seen any clinical trial or meta-analysis on the benefits of doing one more crossword puzzle for people who already have done 10,000 of them? do you know that the crossword puzzle industry is several times larger than the cognitive training one?

Anyway, we should all do a better job at separating reality from hope from hype - and there is a bit of the three.

"do you know that the crossword puzzle industry is several times larger than the cognitive training one?"

My counter to that would be that crosswords aren't marketed in the same way as brain training software. That said, I agree with your point that learning new tools may well be benefitial, irrespective of the inherent benefit in the tools themselves.

I am interested in this industry and notice that it resembles the nutraceutical industry whereby there are few proper clinical trials to back the health claims at present. One of the reasons might be that there are few products patentable which would have allowed the developer the time and also funds to invest in the trials needed to support the claims; the other reason might be that we only now start to have some tools to use to define clinical end points like using real time MRI to understand what are the mechanism of actions of those games.
it is not because the data is not yet conclusive that one must consider the entire brain games for the elderly useless, it is likely that it will have to become more targeted to the prevention of specific diseases.
I agree that there should definitely be more trials in this area while keeping the elderly clearly informed about the latest findings.

have you seen the latest results of the following trial 2009 feb: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090211161932.htm.
"Computer Exercises Improve Memory And Attention, Study Suggests
ScienceDaily (Feb. 11, 2009) â A new study shows that computerized brain exercises can improve memory and lead to faster thinking." The Improvement in Memory with Plasticity-based Adaptive Cognitive Training (IMPACT) study with 487 healthy volunteers over 65 whereby they show that "Those who trained on the Brain Fitness Program were twice as fast in processing information with an average improvement in response time of 131 percent. The active control group did not show statistically significant gains, the researchers found." among others.
As we write new convincing data is being published, they just need some time for this....

didn't andrew wakefield do a study that definitively shows that the MMR vaccine is caused by brain games?

I have been working in the brain fitness space since 2001 and we have come along way. There has been significant scientific studies over the last 5 years that illustrate how we can maintain and develop our cognitive skills through our lifespan. Our company has started to launch pilots that provide more efficacy to our software. I truly believe the next 5 years will see a lot of positive developments in this area.


First time browser - nice website. From somebody that's been in the trenches, good luck in the Hellmouth.

IMHO, what the review is really saying is that there are no good studies done. Alas, this is the problem with more than a few papers. I've been out of the publishing game for a while, thankfully, but I was always astonished at the number of poorly designed trials done in the "peer-reviewed" journals that I was reading.

Brain games can entertain, as they often do with my daughter and I. A better tactic might be to not berate the games themselves, but berate the people marketing them beyond this capacity.

heyy this is gayyy. ??
this doesn't makeee [any] since...?

Yeah, I'm in a well respected WM lab and have recently read over 20 studies involving adaptive-WM training (like cogmed)...I wouldn't pay $.02 to take a leak on their software. Its total garbage that does nothing but increase scores on simple span tasks.