Have you ever heard of working out your brain? Lumosity and similar websites are out to prove that short mental exercises, designed to stimulate certain parts of the brain, can effectively increase basic mental functions like concentration, problem solving and recollection.
But as the brain exercise industry grows, more and more people are arguing that it simply doesn’t work. So now it’s time to answer the question: Do these games and exercises really train your brain?
The Argument for ‘Yes’
The biggest scientific argument against the concept of brain training is that for a very long time, brains were thought to stop developing before adulthood. The psychology department at the University of Alabama in Birmingham challenged this in a 1999 study when they put over two thousand senior citizens into testing groups to improve certain skills. 87% of speed-trained, 74% of reasoning-trained and 26% of memory-trained participants demonstrated reliable cognitive improvement immediately; most of these improvements remained when they were reexamined two years later.
It’s not just computer games that are said to have a positive effect on our brains. Tetris, Sudoku and crossword puzzles supposedly have the same benefits. Researchers from the University of California, University of New Mexico and McGill University came together to complete an experiment on brain development in relation to these games. Twenty-six young women were given an MRI and then asked to play Tetris for three straight months. When they had a second MRI, their brains all showed consistent development, particularly a thicker cortex.
Lumosity swears by their slogan, “reclaim your brain,” and they aren’t the only ones. With over 50 million users and $70 million in profits, Lumosity is clearly quite popular. Naturally, they’ve conducted some scientific research of their own to back up their premise, which you can find here. They sum up the results of their research with this:
“Improvements in memory, attention and executive function have been seen in Baby Boomers. Fluid intelligence has been improved in young adults. Middle school students have improved their cognitive performance and school preparedness. Children with genetically-based learning challenges have improved in a variety of cognitive domains. Cancer survivors have benefited from reduced impact of chemofog. These results demonstrate that training with the Lumosity tools can have wide-ranging and critical impacts in cognitive performance across the lifespan, regardless of one’s starting point.”
The Argument for ‘No’
In 2010, neuroscientist Dr. Adrian Owen completed a study that tracked over 11,000 adults who began to play mental exercising games regularly. After it was all said and done, he found that their intelligence hadn’t increased. Though most of them were better at playing the games through familiarity and repetition, those skills didn’t transfer to life activities.
In her article about long-term brain training, journalist Elizabeth Day offers this explanation:
“Several companies use scans of brains ’lighting up‘ to support claims that their programs are effective, but these simply show a measure of the energy that the brain is using rather than providing any evidence that the brain is being altered in any long-term way.”
Many of the professionals who disagree about the benefits of working out your brain argue that the tasks are mindless and not actually intellectually stimulating. Reading books, doing experiments or extensively studying new material all increase intelligence because they’re challenging the brain to understand and absorb new knowledge.
Is Lumosity a scam?
The biggest criticism of brain workouts comes from those claiming that Lumosity takes advantage of customers by offering them an unachievable shortcut to brilliance. The biggest issue people have with the company is that you must make an account and give them your personal information before you can play any games, even the free ones. Another issue is that their science is somewhat misleading. They often use small test groups of twenty people or less. In Zeke Iddon’s popular blog about Lumosity, he points out that they once claimed a customer’s memory will increase by 2.5 after using the site. But 2.5 what? They literally mean by 2.5 memories, but someone recalling 2.5 more details on average isn’t very impressive, when the average person remembers hundreds of things per day.
Lumosity receives so much criticism these days that they’ve permanently disabled users from commenting on their YouTube videos. In addition, they’ve been accused of anonymously commenting on articles that criticize them, claiming that they’re a customer who swears by the site. The problem is that the comments are all very similar, all anonymous and all a bit insincere.
Contradicting research and viewpoints can make it hard to form an opinion, so I say you should decide for yourself. Give brain workouts a try by playing games on some of the free, no-strings-attached websites like Mind Games and Brain Metrix. If you find that these exercises are, in fact, improving your life, you might want to take it to the next the next step and give Lumosity a try!
What do you think? Do brain workouts really work? Leave us a comment with your argument!