Brain Game Setback

cere_110114_article_featTwo years ago we published a Cerebrum article, “The Brain Games Conundrum: Does Cognitive Training Really Sharpen the Mind?” Complicating the issue for our co-authors, Walter R. Boot and Arthur F. Kramer—both neuroscientists who had spent years studying cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and aging—were two open letters to the neuroscience community from more than one-hundred scientists, one objecting to effectiveness claims made by brain-game companies and the other a rebuttal saying brain training has a solid scientific base.

Near the end of a Q&A with Boot and Kramer following the article’s publication, Boot predicted that “maybe in ten years we might know enough to make more definitive recommendations.”

Boot’s prediction was reaffirmed earlier this week with the publishing of a comprehensive evaluation of the scientific literature on brain games in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest. Seven scientists, including Boot, reviewed more than 130 studies of brain games and other forms of cognitive training. The evaluation included studies of products from industry giant Lumosity.

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Test Your Knowledge: Brain Trivia

Do we really only use ten percent of our brains? Is it possible to be genuinely skilled at multitasking? With so much information out there about our brains, separating fact from fiction is not always an easy feat. Part of our mission at the Dana Foundation is to educate the public about the brain and its functions and potential; so we set out to do just that at this year’s NYC Regional Brain Bee.

We approached attendees at random and asked a set of brain-related trivia questions. With a mixed bag of responses, our goal was to not only debunk some common misconceptions, but share a few new facts as well:

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Lumosity Fined for Deceptive Advertising

cere_110114_article_featWhen we published the Cerebrum article,  “The Brain Games Conundrum: Does Cognitive Function Really Sharpen the Mind?”, and a follow-up Q&A with the authors in November 2014, three aspects of the article were crystal clear: I) Few topics in neuroscience evoke as much debate as brain game effectiveness. 2) Advertising has convinced tens of thousands of people to open their wallets and buy products. 3) The science surrounding the benefits of brain games is sketchy at best.

The article was in direct contrast to website claims by Lumosity, a major player in the brain-game business, with more than $1 billion a year in revenues and 60-million members. At the time, Lumosity’s website boasted of nine peer-reviewed studies, 36 university collaborators, and testimonials galore.

Now, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTA):

The creators and marketers of the Lumosity ‘brain training’ program have agreed to settle FTA charges alleging that they deceived consumers with unfounded claims that Lumosity games can help users perform better at work and in school, and reduce or delay cognitive impairment associated with age and other serious health conditions.

As part of the settlement, Lumos Labs, the company behind Lumosity, will pay $2 million in redress and will notify subscribers of the FTC action and provide them with an easy way to cancel their auto-renewal to avoid future billing.

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Brain Games: Ten Years Away

When I first became editor of Cerebrum two years ago, I pitched an article about the effectiveness of brain games to my advisory board. Too soon, they suggested, because there aren’t enough good studies to support one.

That struck me as curious, since a look on Lumosity’s website revealed nine peer-reviewed studies, 36 university collaborators, and testimonials galore. Lumosity is the largest company in a brain-game business that is estimated at $1.3 billion a year.K-November-Brain Games

Three months ago the board finally greenlighted the idea for an article, on the condition that I could find a recognized authority with a track record in cognition and aging to write it. I invited Arthur F. Kramer, Ph.D., director of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science & technology and the Swanlund Chair and professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Illinois. He accepted and suggested he collaborate with research colleague Walter R. Boot, Ph.D., an associate professor at Florida State University. The result is this month’s Cerebrum article, “The Brain Games Conundrum: Does Cognitive Training Really Sharpen the Mind?” (A Q&A with the authors will post on the Dana Foundation website on Monday).

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Scientific Community Comes Out Against ‘Brain Game’ Marketing

Guest post by science writer Kayt Sukel

A few years ago, I was asked to write an article about the science behind “brain games,” or computer games designed to help improve cognitive function, for a popular magazine. I spoke with a variety of scientists—including those involved with companies that were marketing these games—and also examined the (quite small number) of studies that had been published on brain game efficacy. Taken together, my piece concluded that was that there was no hard and fast evidence, to date, that brain games worked as advertised. Citing the lack of a magic bullet for aging-related cognitive decline, the editor of the magazine killed my story, saying that it felt “too negative.”  The magazine’s readership, she told me, wanted to be able to “do something” about keeping age-related memory and attention problems at bay.

Who wouldn’t? Many brain training companies make bold claims about the games’ effects–suggesting that just a few minutes on the computer each day could slow cognitive decline and keep neurodegeneration at bay. With that kind of messaging, it’s easy to see why the programs have become so popular. Yet, while these supposedly “scientific” claims lack evidentiary basis, few scientists have come out publicly against them.

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