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Cognitive Diss(onance)

Study Proves Brain-Training Video Games Like Lumosity Are Useless

Lumosity, an online brain-training game that claims to improve memory, attention, flexibility, speed of processing, and problem-solving is basically bunk, according to a new study. Researchers found that the game did not produce any measurable increases in executive functioning in adults.

“There are enough hints in the literature that cognitive training deserved a real, rigorous, full-scale test,” coauthor on the study Joseph Kable of the University of Pennsylvania said in a statement. Kable and his colleagues specifically examined whether Lumosity and similar brain-training games could help treat addiction. “The logic,” he explained. “Would be that if you can train cognitive abilities and change activity in these brain structures, then that may change your likelihood of impulsive behavior.”

But science is a cruel mistress. And this isn’t the first time Lumosity has come under fire for making stuff up about the human mind—they were recently forced to pay $2 million to the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly attracting customers based on false claims that their games were proven to prevent mental decline.

The study, published in Journal of Neuroscience, divided 128 young adults into two groups. Each group participated in either commercial Lumosity training or played normal, everyday video games for 10 weeks. Kable and his team conducted a number of tests throughout the 10-week period, including tests that measured each participant’s risk taking and decision making behavior. They also used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess activity in those brain regions associated with executive function. A separate group of 35 participants played no video games, but sat through all of the same cognitive and neurologic tests.

Results revealed that playing Lumosity brain training games had only one measurable effect—it made participants better at playing Lumosity brain training games. There was no observable effect on risk-taking or decision-making, and no changes in brain activity detected by fMRI. The study involved a relatively small sample, but one large enough—and with results compelling enough—that even the researchers seemed a bit embarrassed that they bothered testing a commercial brain-training product that was so obviously bunk.

“I think we’d all like to have better cognitive abilities,” Kable said. “The notion that you could do something now that would remediate it was very exciting. I think it was just an idea that really needed to be tested.”

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