You may remember companies like Luminosity boasting that their brain training games can offset the aging process by slowing or even reversing age-related cognitive declines. As compelling as their claims were back then, two schools of research emerged in 2014. One group argued against the benefits of brain training and the other supported the companies’ claims. So, which group was right? A team of authors finally set out to determine the answer to that question, and the results of their meta-analysis don’t favor the pro-brain training camp.
The new study conducted reviewed the results of over 130 papers that had previously been published and peer-reviewed in scientific journals. While it’s true that consistently playing a specific game can actually make you better at that game, brain-training apps claim their games skills can be transferred to other real-life situations. To date, only a handful of studies have actually attempted to answer whether ‘brain training’ can have an impact on real-world performance and the ones that did only focused on neural plasticity. They checked to see if playing the games would help form new neural connections, assuming this would influence real-world outcomes. Obviously, such claims are out of place and unproven.
What’s so problematic about the companies’ claims that their various software applications would improve memory, sharpen intellectual skills, and even prevent memory loss is that they can fall under the rubic of health claims. And without sufficient evidence, these are all false health claims. The FTC fined Lumor Labs, makers of Luminosity, $2 million earlier this year for false advertising for this reason. A company is not allowed to promise a product is effective as a medical treatment unless it provides data to prove it.
Even with some apparent benefits related to playing brain training games, the benefits were only limited to the specific tasks practiced. The study states, “Based on our extensive review of the literature cited by brain-training companies in support of their claims, coupled with our review of related brain-training literatures that are not currently associated with a company or product, there does not yet appear to be sufficient evidence to justify the claim that brain training is an effective tool for enhancing real-world cognition.”