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Does Brain Training Work?

Does brain training work? This is a big question, and there have been several tests and surveys carried out - some more scientific than others - to try and establish the truth.

Anecdotally at least, several people say that they have experienced benefits through brain training, but is this true?

When you read the reports written by those who have done surveys on brain training and undertaken tests with lots of solvers and then compared before and after performance, what you tend to find is the following two things:

1) People get better - often much better - at the particular games that they play in the test;

2) There is no clear evidence that they get general all-round benefit: for instance if they play a particular game that tests spatial awareness, there is no clear evidence that their spatial awareness in real-world tasks (and hence not directly related to an element of a particular game) gets any better.

So given this, what conclusions do people make about brain training? They usually err on the side of caution and say that there is no clear evidence that brain training leads to general measurable improvements in mental performance.

On the positive side, you do get better at the games you play, and brain training games tend to be fun to play. And, presumably therefore, if you do lots of mental arithmetic games, and then need to perform mental arithmetic in real life - as the skill is so closely related, you will perform better at it. The problem is that because the benefit is usually specific to the game, then your general ability at a skill in a novel situation or even a common situation not related to a game may not actually improve. It probably also varies from game type to game type: if you play a memory game and find that your memory does get better over time - perhaps you develop a strategy to help you remember words for quickly - then presumably if you need to remember similar information in the real world - then you could use the same technique and therefore perform better at it.

There may be alternatives to brain training that do offer more benefit - for instance many people swear by a crossword, and the various types of clues that it contains, and for instance building general knowledge and testing lateral thinking skills could be a big plus. Others cite evidence that playing certain video games can actually lead to general benefits and isn't the total waste of time that many people think it is!

What is one to conclude about brain training? The most accurate conclusion is probably that the games are fun and can lead to some very specific benefits in areas relating directly to the gameplay experience, but generally you should not expect to get a 'better' brain in the same way you might get generally fitter by doing physical exercise. If you play them with that expectation, rather than expecting to be elevated to the thinking abilities of Einstein just by brain training for a few minutes a day, then brain training can still be satisfying and worthwhile.
Date written: 23 Apr 2015



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