Boost your brain through games
October 24, 2012 10:41 PM   Subscribe

Do "brain training" games work?

I recently discovered I'm curious about brain training exercises - has anyone stuck to a consistent program, and seen marked improvement in their cognitive abilities?
posted by raintree to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
There is experimental evidence that practice with the dual N-back task can boost certain measures of intelligence. But apparently the original study has gotten a fair amount of criticism, and some more recent studies have failed to replicate the result.

It's also not much of a game. It takes a bunch of attention and is pretty tedious.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:58 PM on October 24, 2012

According the neurologist I worked with at a company that made cognitive tests the answer was no. If you search for how these tests don't work you get similar results.

These sorts of tests, can, however, be used to diagnose mental decline when doing drug tests, checking for damage from concussion and also possibly to discover dementia at an earlier time. Discovering dementia could be very useful for creating drugs to slow or perhaps even reverse the onset of dementia at some point.
posted by sien at 11:12 PM on October 24, 2012

Yes the games work. If you do the brain training games you will get better at doing the brain training games. Other cognitive functions wouldn't necessarily increase, but you will be better at the game.
posted by koolkat at 1:29 AM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

I signed up for Lumosity and quickly grew bored with most of the games. I plateaued after 2 months. I go back occasionally to practice speed math because it's the only thing that makes a difference for me really in every day life.

It's also annoying because the games are really setup as tests. They aren't designed to help you improve in any way other than repetition. I complained about this and they pretty much told me they were studying my brain and not really interested in helping me improve on anything.

For example, with the speed math games, the problems are just randomized and it doesn't tell you which ones you missed or recognize problem areas and feed you problems you need to improve on. I kept having to pause the game and take notes myself of problems I was missing.

Basically, you pay them to collect valuable research your brain. You take a bunch of tests over and over and eventually get really good at some tests, but so what. I mean, except for getting good at calculating in your head.

If you really want to try Dual n-back there are a bunch of free versions out there. I would not recommend Lumosity.

Really, they should be paying you to do this stuff.
posted by j03 at 1:46 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anecdotally, a month or two of using the Dual N-back test almost every day resulted in not just a sharp increase in my scores, but a noticeable improvement in overall concentration ability.

However, I didn't stick with it because it's boring, difficult, and stressful. It's about as much fun as flossing.
posted by pete_22 at 2:44 AM on October 25, 2012

I'm afraid the answer is no, however there is evidence that a way to create new and boosted neural pathways is to play a musical instrument.

This will of course take a lot more time and effort, but beautifully worth it...
posted by krisb1701d at 3:10 AM on October 25, 2012

Right now, the definitive word on this question is this study. The take-home from the abstract: "Despite improvements on both the dual n-back and visual search tasks with practice, and despite a high level of statistical power, there was no positive transfer to any of the cognitive ability tests."
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:26 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

It might depend on the type of practice you do & type of "brain boost" you're looking for. There was a study that came out recently that said that intensive LSAT studying could physically change some of your brain structures:

Intense prep for law school admission test alters brain structure
posted by lyra4 at 4:02 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

What type of "brain training" do you want to do?

Someone did a study on the players of your basic non-brain-training video game and found that if they had to make decisions quickly, the quality of those decisions was much closer to the quality of their non-hasty decisions vs. the non-gaming cohort. So apparently trying to jump from platform to platform while dodging fireballs teaches you something.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:10 AM on October 25, 2012

The only games that help are the ones that require an intense amount of mental work. Sustained thinking is a transferable skill similarly to how learning to push to exhaustion in bench presses helps with squats. Most games don't do anything to put you in this state and when they do, it's for short bursts which is not helpful. You'd do much better writing something in another language, memorizing large bodies of knowledge or seeking out difficult conversations.
posted by michaelh at 8:48 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just want to highlight the Bavelier study that Kid Charlemagne links to. In that study, people that played first-person shooters* were able to make decisions significantly faster than people playing non-shooters, and without losing accuracy.

According to Bavelier, first-person shooters are the only known genres of video games that improve your perceptual and cognitive abilities in a transferrable way. All other games -- including games like Brain Age, which purport to make you smarter -- only improve your abilities in the confined setting of the game.

*The article says "action games," but they really mean first-person shooters. I've talked to Daphne Bavelier before, and that was the specific distinction that she made -- first-person shooters versus all other games. Her team actually developed a pared-down version of Doom 3 to be used in their experiment settings.
posted by tickingclock at 7:32 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gwern has the best online info I have seen. He concentrates on dual n back which is the technique with the most supporting documentation, but he looks at a few other things if you surf around his very interesting site.
posted by bukvich at 8:02 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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