Brain training is the latest self-improvement craze. Last year over one billion dollars was spent on brain training programs. But are they worth the time and money spent? Do they live up to the hype? Do the benefits gained translate to better overall brain function?
These are questions inquiring minds want to know!
The Science Behind the Games
The top brain training companies have teams of researchers and scientists developing and testing their products. The creators of the brain training programs consider concepts as complex as neuroplasticity, adaptivity, fluid intelligence, and cognitive reserve when developing new exercises. They publish their own research results to substantiate their claims of improving brain functions such as memory, concentration, focus, problem solving, and reaction time.
Clearly, a tremendous amount of effort has gone into the research and development of these brain games by some very intelligent people. It all sounds highly scientific and pretty impressive! But of course, the creators of these products have a vested interest in proving that they work as advertised.
When I looked at independent studies that were not associated with any brain training company, however, I found there to be about equal evidence that brain training works – and that it doesn’t!
Two Studies: Different Conclusions
Here are two major studies that came to very different conclusions.
The ACTIVE (Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly) study was funded by the National Institute on Aging. This study showed that not only did brain training work, but that the benefits can last long after the training has stopped. Surprisingly, participants who were checked five years after their training ended still showed detectable brain improvements. (1)
On the flip side, the Brain Test Britain experiment was by far the largest ever study of computer-based brain training with over 13,000 participants. The conclusion of this study was that there was no evidence that the benefits of brain training transferred to real life brain skills. Brain training was found to be no more beneficial than spending an equal amount of time using the internet. (2)
You understandably might be more confused than ever but here is my take on this.
Hi-tech brain training is in its infancy. It was only a few years ago that scientists realized you could improve your brain at all by any means. Brain training programs show promise and will only get better as more research is done.
As things currently stand, I would say that brain training could be helpful but is definitely not necessary.
Pick the Right Program for You
If the idea of brain training appeals to you, take one for a test drive before making a commitment. Most brain training programs offer free trial offers. Here are some tips for picking a suitable program:
Substance. You need to know if a program has even a shot at providing you any real benefits. Choose one that has been scientifically designed and tested to improve memory and other related cognitive functions.
Style. Choose a program designed for your level of technical comfort. You want to find it fun with just the right amount of difficulty. How do you feel about competition? Some programs will be comparing your games scores to those of other players.
Demographics. No one brain training program addresses the needs of everyone. Some are better suited for the younger crowd while others are designed specifically for baby boomers or seniors. There’s even one relative newcomer created specifically for women.
Notice how you feel after you play. You should be mentally energized and refreshed. If you feel overwhelmed, frustrated, annoyed or bored, either this is not the right program for you, or you need to adjust the program’s level of difficulty, if that’s possible.
Brain Training is Not for Everyone
I don’t believe brain training is right for everyone. Most of us already have way too much “screen time” and would benefit from other kinds of activities instead.
If you’re very sedentary, physical exercise would provide more brain benefits than playing games online.
If your life is very stressful, spending those 15 minutes engaged in a stress reduction technique like meditation would almost certainly be a better choice.
There are many “real world” ways to stimulate your brain. Time-tested activities that challenge your brain include playing chess, learning a foreign language, playing a musical instrument, or enjoying a creative hobby like photography, gardening, woodworking, or sewing.
The bottom line is that your brain thrives on variety to keep those synapses firing. So the more different kinds of mental activities you engage in, the happier and healthier your brain will be. That may, or may not, include using a structured brain training program.
Deane Alban holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and has written about natural health for over 20 years. When her husband showed signs of early mental decline in his 50s, she refused to accept that this was “normal” or inevitable.
So she spent the next two years researching how to reverse this disturbing trend and started her blog – BeBrainFit.com – to share what she learned.
She found that most of us are inadvertently harming our brains… even if we follow a “healthy” lifestyle. If you’re concerned about staying mentally sharp for life, read the rest of her story here.