Brain training games don't train the brain, says BBC

Research in a BBC program to be aired tonight shows that brain training games such as those sold for the Nintendo DS are no better at training your brain than simply spending time browsing the Internet.

The 11,000 participants were randomly split into three groups and asked to do different brain "workouts" for 10 minutes a day and three times a week over a period of six weeks.

While two of the three groups played games aimed at specific cognitive functions of the brain, such as problem-solving abilities and visuospatial skills, the third group was given simple web browsing tasks which did not target any particular skill.

Tests done after the six weeks of training showed that none of the activities had improved the participant's brain power. Unsurprisingly they did become better at the specific games, or tasks, they had been doing over the six week period.

Neuroscientist Dr Adrian Owen said that the results were clear. "Statistically, there are no significant differences between the improvements seen in participants who played our brain training games, and those who just went on the internet for the same length of time," he said.

Clive Ballard of the Alzheimer's Society, who helped to design the games used, said that the "evidence could change the way we look at brain training games" and that taking a walk could perhaps be a better way of staying active.

According to the BBC, Nintendo said in a statement that their Dr Kawashima brain training games never claimed to be scientifically proven to improve cognitive function and that the games are just "fun challenges incorporating simple arithmetic, memorization and reading".

"In this way it is like a workout for the brain and the challenges in the game can help stimulate the player's brain," it read.

"Can You Train Your Brain?- A Bang Goes the Theory Special" airs tonight on BBC One at 9pm BST, and will be available afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

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29 Comments

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I always wondered if these so called “brain trainers” were doing the job they supposed to. It’s time consuming but not really training your brain in some kind of way. In fact I think surfing the internet would be more useful since you are sucking up information. Instead of buying you children a DS with brain trainer, send them outside, they will learn a lot more out there.

Lies.

Brain Games keep your mind active and sharp. Its not going to make you Einstein from playing your DS for 10 minutes a day, ffs. Common Sense? The media is pathetic, one day they support X only to discredit X a few days later. Next they're going to tell me that playing Video games does NOT improve hand eye coordination.

While this is bad news for anyone who wants to improve his brains'... capabilities, I for one am happy that the "use it or lose it" idea is untrue.

After reading most of the comments, it seems that people are getting confused with the difference between "brain power" and knowledge. Learning something new does not mean you have increased your brain power. It means you have increased your knowledge. When they say increase your brain power, they mean increase your ability to learn new things at quicker speeds. To put it in geek terms, if you want your computers brain power to increase, you upgrade your processor, not your hard drive.

SputnikGamer said,
To put it in geek terms, if you want your computers brain power to increase, you upgrade your processor, not your hard drive.

Can you be a little more geeky please?
I'll be happy if my brain would function as a hard rive, just copy and paste information instead of actually studying it

Edited by rahvii, Apr 21 2010, 5:05pm :

SputnikGamer said,
After reading most of the comments, it seems that people are getting confused with the difference between "brain power" and knowledge.

"Brain Power" is not a defined term though, and this report doesn't seem to clarify exactly what they mean by it either. That (among other reasons) is why we are questioning the validity of this "research". The people only did a total of 180 minutes of training. Sorry, but that is just way too little time to make a valid conclusion.

roadwarrior said,

"Brain Power" is not a defined term though, and this report doesn't seem to clarify exactly what they mean by it either. That (among other reasons) is why we are questioning the validity of this "research". The people only did a total of 180 minutes of training. Sorry, but that is just way too little time to make a valid conclusion.

My degree in college is on Instructional Design so that is what I am basing my comment on. More specifically it is directly related to the use of multimedia in instructional design. That being said, the article says the research focuses on the games that "aimed at specific cognitive functions of the brain" which is scientific talk for the ability to process information. Also 180 minutes of training is more than enough time to see a measurable difference. The entire concept of instructional design focuses on creating instruction that can produce measurable results. The reason these games are being doubted is because their measurable results are no better than the people browsing the net.

Obviously, anyone that have to solve similar problems to those contained in the games will help greatly from playing it, but there's not such a thing as "brain power", this study is ambiguous as it can be. Simply, someone that walks or browse the web won't be as fast doing math problems as the one that plays the games. I don't have to make an study to scientifically prove this.

What's next? schools may drop math classes because they develop the same brain power as browsing the web?

The heck, how did they even measure "brain power" anyway? What kinds of things were they looking for? IQ?
Yeah sure... the participants got better at doing repetitive tasks, like READING, MATH, STRATEGY and PROBLEM SOLVING. How useless is that -.-

Maybe not "smarter" as in increased IQ, but I found that solving the simple math problems
helped me stay sharper at work. Especially considering how much of a crutch the computer and calculators have become to solving math equations for me.

What we are all *forgetting* is that the BBC Corporation Trust (the operational management that is basically the BBC Board) reads like a social-elitist "who's who" in the UK, and the *in thing* among the UK social set (as is the case in a lot of the developed nations) is to decry anything that lowers the relevance of classroom inculcation, especialy for pre-collegiate youth (likely because they are as fierce in protecting their elite status as gulo gulos, and the one avocation most of the *moneyed set* seem to practice is teaching at some level). In short, they are acting in *their* self-interest, so how balanced is the study in reality? (Is it more balanced than all those global-warming studies, most of which have NOT withstood the rigor of peer review?)

So what's the point in learning times tables in school? I know I can't remember them.
I think this has been sensationalized. I can't imagine doing brain training every couple of days wouldn't have an effect.

They had them play the same game over and over for 6 weeks. I know what they're saying is probably true but if you wanted to increase brain power, aren't you supposed to stimulate it with something new constantly? They should've had one group play one game the whole 6 weeks, another play a bunch of random games constantly changing it up and a third group that did the browsing.

cheops2006 said,
They are games, are they really wasting my tax money on this ****,......

Would you rather they waste it on more episodes of Eastenders?

Mike Chipshop said,

Since when did your tax money fund the BBC?

Actually the beeb has always been publicly funded, and they have numerous public broadcasting obligations which are frequently questioned

But this 'bang goes the theory' show is really just science-lite for the masses, I wouldn't expect it to be very conclusive.

Edited by mounty, Apr 21 2010, 2:31pm :

This will probably be a correlation in terms of increased brain activity during a recorded exorcise.
Using brain training game will still make you smarter in terms of actual ability (maths, spelling etc).

cpu said,
So, we don't need to visit a school. They (teachers) cannot train our brains using the examples.

Obviously this can be extrapolated from this article.