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'Brain training' games do not make you smarter

26 April 2010

Research by the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP), King’s College London (KCL) and colleagues from Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brian Sciences Unit in Cambridge, the Alzheimer’s Society and the University of Manchester, has found that brain training games do not improve general mental ability.

The research, a collaboration with the BBC’s science programme, Bang Goes the Theory, was published in a letter in the journal Nature on 20 April. Details of the results were shown on 21 April on BBC1 in Can You Train Your Brain? A Bang Goes the Theory Special.

The brain training experiment was launched in September 2009 and is the largest ever clinical trial of computer-based brain training. 11,430 adults across the UK, between the ages of 18 and 60, followed a six-week training regime, completing computer-based tasks on the BBC’s Lab UK website designed to train reasoning, memory, planning, visuospatial skills and attention. Each person’s brain function was benchmarked before and after training in a set of computer-based tests sensitive to changes in brain function, developed by scientists at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge.

The results showed no evidence that the benefits of playing brain training games transfer to other mental skills.   People who completed computer-based training exercises did improve at the games, but these improvements were simply due to practise and were no help to them on tasks on which they had not trained, even when they tapped into similar areas of the brain as those used during training.

Co-author Professor Robert Howard from IoP KCL said: 'There were no transfer effects and the expectation that practising a broad range of cognitive tasks to get yourself smarter was unsupported in this study.'

He continues: 'However, the findings do not mean that training in young children or elderly patients is pointless. We are asking participants aged 60 and over to continue training for the full 12 months of the study so that we can carry out further research into the group most at risk from memory disorders.'

‘Putting brain training to the test’ can be accessed here: To find out more about the BBC science series, Bang Goes The Theory visit


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