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Lumosity Brain Games – Does Science Support the Claims?

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Lumosity Brain Games – Does Science Support the Claims?
Brain training has been a hot trend for the past decade with an ever growing market. In fact, Lumosity has 50 million members from 182 countries.

Yet, many people claim that Lumosity Brain Games is a scam with no science to support the company’s claims that its products strengthen the brain. The service includes a collection of brain training games and also features a tracking system of your success, planning your training as well as modifying it and sharing your results with other members.

Many scientists have pointed out that the social interaction has a psychological impact on how members view themselves, especially their successes when sharing with fellow brain training members. The game categories include:

–> Attention

–> Flexibility

–> Memory

–> Problem Solving

–> Speed

The science behind Lumosity is defined as the company collaborating with researchers around the world from 36 top universities and conducting its own studies.

Regardless which side of the fence you’re on, it doesn’t hurt to examine some of the scientific data being published about this topic and about Lumosity specifically.

Exploring Scientific Data on Brain Training

The UK review site, Which? undertakes the task of examining several sites, including Lumosity. Website editor Martyn Hocking states, “…if people are under the illusion that these devices are scientifically proven to keep their minds in shape, they need to think again.”

One of the experts that Hocking asked about brain training was Dr. Adrian Owen, Assistant Director at the Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge. Dr. Owen tells Hocking that playing a game for a month will surely see the player improving in the game. He ended by saying, “Would we have concluded this was a beneficial form of brain training? Probably not.”

Lumosity has conducted its own clinical trials to measure their program’s effectiveness in improving daily living. Michael Scanlon, Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Lumos Labs for Lumosity tells Hocking, “We would never say Lumosity is proven to improve day-to-day living, but there is more and more evidence it does.”

The Lumosity website states that the exercises in their brain training program “are designed to stimulate the neuroplasticity that leads to improved cognitive ability and a healthier brain.”

Neuroplasticity refers to synaptic and non-synaptic plasticity that demonstrates how the brain changes over a lifetime. These changes can occur as the result of an injury or simply from learning and development as well as memory.

lumosity screen

Examining Conflicting Data from Studies

In February 2009, The Guardian reported:

“A panel of experts, including eminent neuroscientists, found there was no scientific evidence to support a range of manufacturers’ claims that the gadgets can help improve memory or stave off the risk of illnesses such as dementia.”

A study titled “Crosswords to Computers: A Critical Review of Popular Approaches to Cognitive Enhancement” published by NCBI (US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health) concludes that, “Many studies have found that electronic training approaches result in significant improvements in trained cognitive tasks.”

A few studies have shown improvements when it comes to “untrained tasks within the trained cognitive domain, non-trained cognitive domains, or on measures of everyday function”.

Training that focuses on cognitive programs were found to “elicit effects that generalize to untrained, practical tasks for extended periods of time”. Many of these studies were determined to have inadequate control groups, no long-term follow-up and “ecologically valid outcome measures”.

But, the study concluded that even with these limitations, the “evidence suggests that computerized cognitive training has the potential to positively impact one’s sense of social connectivity and self-efficacy”.

A study titled “Improving Fluid Intelligence With Training On Working Memory” was published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).

Fluid intelligence (Gf) is “the ability to reason and to solve new problems independent of previously acquired knowledge”. Gf is needed when performing cognitive tasks or learning. It’s found to be high in those with successful careers in professional and educational arenas.

lumosity stats

Additional Data on Brain Games

The study concludes that Gf test performance is improved by practicing the specific tests; however, there was no proof that “training on any other regimen yields increased Gf in adults”. Unlike many other studies, this one often referred to as the Jaeggi study (after one of the researchers, Susanne M. Jaeggi) reveals proof that brain training works in the realm of Gf.

The researchers state that the gain in intelligence depends on how much training the individual has done.

“No Evidence Of Intelligence Improvement After Working Memory Training: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study” states that recent studies appear to offer some evidence for general intelligence during memory training.

The study compared young adults receiving 20 sessions of adaptive dual n-back program (working memory training group) practice along with a placebo-control group that received no practice. While there were improvements in both groups there was no noticable transfer between the practice and results on tests measuring cognitive ability.

“Long-Term Effects of Cognitive Training on Everyday Functional Outcomes in Older Adults” study concludes that: “Reasoning training resulted in less functional decline in self-reported IADL[Independent Activity of Daily Living]”.

When compared to the control group, the “cognitive training resulted in improved cognitive abilities specific to the abilities trained that continued 5 years after the initiation of the intervention”.

Those participating in the study improved in their performance on the tasks trained on. However, the training had no effect on everyday memory functions.

brain training priorities

Brain Games – Legitimate or Not?

These are just a few of the studies often cited in arguments over the legitimacy of brain training. As an emerging science of study, the jury is still out on the validity of brain training as a preventative program or an enhancer to mental cognitive abilities and the possibility it may aid in the prevention of age-related dementia.

Many scientists recommend chess and crossword puzzles over computerized games, but the continued popularity of computer games demonstrates what people are naturally drawn to for mental stimulation and entertainment.

Image Credits:

(1) A Health Blog via photopin cc
(2) IsaacMao via Compfight cc
(3) The Shifted Librarian via Compfight cc

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