Summary: Researchers debunk claims that regularly using brain training games can give you an advantage in performance with untrained cognitive tasks.
Source: University of Western Ontario.
A new study led by a team of Western University neuroscientists has debunked claims that getting better at a brain training game can translate to improved performance in other, untrained cognitive tasks.
This study, published in the journal Neuropsychologia, set out to test whether hours of ‘brain training’ in one game could give someone an edge in a second game that uses the same area of the brain. If that result was found, it would lend credence to claims that ‘brain-training’ apps can improve working memory, which is vital for learning and retaining information and in staving off memory loss.
But researchers found such transference simply didn’t happen: participants’ high scores in the first game (the one they trained on) didn’t improve performance in the second game, and were equivalent to scores attained by the ‘untrained’ control group.
“We hypothesized that if you get really, really good at one test by training for a very long time, maybe then you’ll get improvement on tests that are quite similar. Unfortunately, we found no evidence to support that claim,” says Bobby Stojanoski, a research scientist in the Owen Lab at Western’s world renowned Brain and Mind Institute and lead author of the paper. “Despite hours of brain training on that one game, participants were no better at the second game than people who tested on the second game, but hadn’t trained on the first one.”
A groundbreaking 2010 study led by renowned Western neuroscientist Adrian Owen, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging, monitored cognitive performance in 11,000 people who ‘brain trained’ for six weeks. It found that getting good at brain games doesn’t improve working memory or enhance IQ.
Owen is the senior author of the new study, which was supported by BrainsCAN – Western’s $66 million Canada First Research Excellence Fund program in cognitive neuroscience. The new study was designed to search for any transference between two specific and similar games but instead, the results reinforce and extend his previous findings.
Stojanoski concludes, there are other, proven ways to improve memory and brain health: “Sleep better, exercise regularly, eat better, education is great – that’s the sort of thing we should be focused on. If you’re looking to improve your cognitive self, instead of playing a video game or playing a brain training test for an hour, go for a walk, go for a run, socialize with a friend. These are much better things for you.”
Source: Jeff Renaud – University of Western Ontario
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Targeted training: Converging evidence against the transferable benefits of online brain training on cognitive function” by Bobby Stojanoski, Kathleen M. Lyons, Alexandra A. A. Pearce, Adrian M. Owen in Neuropsychologia. Published July 2018.
Targeted training: Converging evidence against the transferable benefits of online brain training on cognitive function
There is strong incentive to improve our cognitive abilities, and brain training has emerged as a promising approach for achieving this goal. While the idea that extensive ‘training’ on computerized tasks will improve general cognitive functioning is appealing, the evidence to support this remains contentious. This is, in part, because of poor criteria for selecting training tasks and outcome measures resulting in inconsistent definitions of what constitutes transferable improvement to cognition. The current study used a targeted training approach to investigate whether training on two different, but related, working memory tasks (across two experiments, with 72 participants) produced transferable benefits to similar (quantified based on cognitive and neural profiles) untrained test tasks. Despite significant improvement on both training tasks, participants did not improve on either test task. In fact, performance on the test tasks after training were nearly identical to a passive control group. These results indicate that, despite maximizing the likelihood of producing transferable benefits, brain training does not generalize, even to very similar tasks. Our study calls into question the benefit of cognitive training beyond practice effects, and provides a new framework for future investigations into the efficacy of brain training.