Boffins find "brain training" games don't work

If you’ve sat about boasting about your incredible intellect after playing a brain training game on the DS Lite, then it’s time to stop, because according to research these games don’t actually work.

A joint investigation between the BBC and boffins at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge University results showed no evidence that the benefits of playing brain training games transfer to other mental skills.

Scientists Dr Adrian Owen, Dr Adam Hampshire, and Dr Jessica Grahn launched the research in September 2009. They tested 11,430 adults across the UK during a six-week training regime, where they completing computer-based tasks on the BBC’s website designed by scientists at  the Medical Research Council and the Alzheimer’s Society, to improve reasoning, memory, planning, spatial skills and attention. If you think you’re tough enough try them out here.

Each person’s brain function was measured before and after training in four computer-based tests sensitive to changes in brain function. It found that people who completed computer-based training exercises did improve at the games, but these improvements were simply due to practice 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.

In their paper, published in the Nature journal yesterday, the boffs concluded: “Brain training’, or the goal of improved cognitive function through the regular use of computerised tests, is a multi-million pound industry, yet in our view scientific evidence to support its efficacy is lacking.

“Modest effects have been reported in some studies of older individuals and preschool children, and video-game players outperform non-players on some tests of visual attention. However, the widely held belief that commercially available computerized brain-training programs improve general cognitive function in the wider population in our opinion lacks empirical support.

“The central question is not whether performance on cognitive tests can be improved by training, but rather, whether those benefits transfer to other untrained tasks or lead to any general improvement in the level of cognitive functioning.”

Nintendo, which uses celebrities such as Nicole Kidman and Ant and Dec to promote its Dr Kawashima brain training games, hit back at the research claiming it’s games were not scientifically proven to improve cognitive function.

In a statement it said the games require users to perform a number of “fun challenges incorporating simple arithmetic, memorisation and reading”.

“In this way it is like a workout for the brain and the challenges in the game can help stimulate the player’s brain,” it said.

And those hoping to beat Alzheimers in a later age by playing such games, which include Sudoku and crosswords, will have to do more than sit and twiddle their thumbs on the DS Lite.