Brain training games are making their way to thousands of mobile apps under the premise that you can get smarter by playing a few minutes every day. They usually have a free trial, and it feels tempting to purchase the full version to improve your cognition and brain function.
But, are you becoming smarter by playing this type of game? In this article, we’re giving you an answer that is backed up by scientific evidence.
What scientists say about brain training games
Sometimes listening to opinions aggravates our confusion, and that’s why we rely on science. But in this particular case, scientists have a contradicting view as well. Two different groups of scientists evaluated the evidence about brain training games and cognitive function in 2019. They considered the same papers but reached the opposite conclusion.
One group stated that the evidence is insufficient to say that this type of game improves cognitive abilities. The other group wrote that the body of evidence is substantial and keeps growing, showing that using brain training games may improve cognitive skills. This only highlights the fact that there’s still disagreement, even in the light of scientific evidence. There’s not a definite answer, and the conclusion is left to our interpretation.
As scientists, we just don’t know if brain training games work. But the answer is probably yes. It is well established that regularly playing games like Chess maintain and improve brain function, why wouldn’t that apply to some digital games?
However, we need to be selective about the games that we download. In 2016, there was a dispute in which the US Federal Trade Commission issued a US$50 million judgment against Lumosity, one of the most popular brain training games, due to performance boost and Alzheimer’s protection claims that were not based on substantial evidence.
How do you know if there’s an actual improvement?
In brain training games, you can measure improvements through scores, which go on improving as you get faster and more accurate. However, is this score a trustworthy measure of everyday life improvements?
According to research, training gains and improvements are very specific for each particular activity. It is actually a real challenge to transfer these gains from one activity to the other. For instance, one individual was studied as he continued practicing and improved his ability to remember a combination of numbers from 7 to 79 digits. But after this training and the impressive outcomes that followed, he was still unable to remember and repeat a combination of more than 6 letters of the alphabet.
So, what should I do?
Having a shortcut to becoming smarter feels like an appealing shortcut, but as you can see, it is rarely so. If you enjoy this type of game and feel there’s an actual improvement in your everyday life, continue to play. They are safe and won’t harm you in any form. But keep your expectations realistic and keep stimulating your brain in other ways, such as learning a new language or a new skill.
Another thing you can do to protect your brain function is physical exercise, which additionally has other benefits for your physical health. But most importantly, remember that transferring gains is not always applicable, so if you find a given task important for your everyday life, keep practicing that task. In the meantime, brain games will continue improving your ability to play brain games.