Big study questions 'brain training'
Millions of people spend lots of time and money on computer games that supposedly will make them smarter. But a big new study is questioning the value of these so-called "brain training" games.
In the largest study of its kind, Adrian Owen of the Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in the United Kingdom tested 11,430 healthy adults aged 18 to 60 wo were recruited through the BBC's science show "Bang Goes the Theory."
The volunteers first took tests to evaluate their thinking abilities. The subjects were then split into three groups. One group trained for at least 10 minutes a day three times a week for at least six weeks using a special computerized training regimen specifically designed to boost their reasoning, planning and problem-solving skills.
The second group played games that trained short-term memory, attention, visual-spatial processing and mathematical abilities. The third group was given web-browsing tasks that didn't test any specific thinking abilities. The brain-training regimens were similar to the kinds of computerized brain-training games sold commercially.
In a paper published in the journal Nature, Owen and his colleagues report that the subjects who did the brain-training tasks did get better at those specific tasks. But there was no improvement in their IQ or any other thinking abilities, even those that are closely related.
The findings also suggest that millions of people who are spending millions of dollars a year on commercial brain-training games in the hope of making themselves smarter are wasting their money.
Click here for a video of the researchers discussing the findings.
The researchers say the findings are no reason for despair. There are lots of things that people can do to help keep themselves sharp, such as reducing stress, eating well and exercising regularly to keep their bodies in shape. There's also some evidence that learning complex new skills, such as a new language, can help your brain. And the study is continuing for another 13,000 subjects aged 60 and older who will train for 12 months to see if the regimen works better for older people.
April 21, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Alzheimers/Dementia , Mental Health , Neurological disorders , Psychology , Seniors
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