Brain training games: how it really plays out

With advancements in technology, there have been various program apps that have claimed to improve brain stimulation. (Photo Illustration by Cassandra Nguyen | The Collegian)

Advertisements to supposedly strengthen your brain can be seen fairly often nowadays. Brain training companies and programs often claim to enhance focus and malleability of the mind. This could be something to enhance college students studying abilities, as well as keep focus on tests and retaining information. If it works, that is.

In fact, what I have found is that there have been a few studies on how these brain training activities help the nueroplasticity of the brain. An article published on the Scientific American website, entitled “Brain Games: Do they really work?” found that there are positive improvements in some brain activities, such as auditory information processing speed, which was enhanced by roughly 58 percent.

However, the same study also said that the overall cognition and memory of those who did the brain training raised by only 4 percent, while the control group who did no brain exercises and just watched videos still raised their overall cognition and memory by 2 percent.

One potential reason for the small percentage jump of improvement could, in fact, be that the players simply get better at the activities and not necessarily the general task, i.e. memory, reasoning, attention and other thoughtful tasks. This conclusion was made in 2010 during an entirely separate study done by a neuroscientist named Adrian Owen, according to an article entitled “Online brain-training: does it really work?” published on the Guardian website.

These brain training activities do often cost money, which is one reason to research and understand their effectiveness and outcome before handing out the money to companies claiming brain improvements.

Another article published by the Stanford Center of Longevity entitled “A Consensus on the Brain Training Industry From the Scientific Community,” suggests several times that “there is little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life.”

That hasn’t stopped this brain training fad from growing, though. Lumosity, one brain training company, has over 70 million members, according to their website. To put that in perspective, if all of their members were U.S. citizens, then roughly 21 percent of the country would be participating with just Lumosity alone. That would be one-fifth of the U.S. population paying to enhance their brain power when the games’ effectiveness appears to be questionable.

One thing did stand out, though. While the effectiveness of the games is questionable overall, some articles offered better alternatives. There are other free ways to enhance our brain strength and cognitive functions. These free ways to improve cognitive functions are things we engage in every day, including social interactions, exercise or even other mental engagements like reading a book or watching an informative documentary.

My name is Emily Moore and I'm a senior majoring in English and mass communications with a minor in leadership. I love to read, write and edit. During my free time, I enjoy doing crossword puzzles, rock climbing and spending time with my friends.