Online brain training apps may be fun to play, but researchers at Western University have found they do little to improve cognitive function such as working memory and attention span.
The study, led by a team of Western neuroscientists, used 72 participants to test whether hours of brain training in one game could improve a person's ability in a second game that relies on the same area of the brain. Researchers found participants' high scores in the game they trained on didn't translate into a better performance in the second game. In fact, even after hours of training their scores on the second game ended up being the same as those who played without training.
“We hypothesized that if you get really, really good at one test by training for a very long time, maybe then you’ll get improvement on tests that are quite similar. Unfortunately, we found no evidence to support that claim,” said study lead author and research scientist Bobby Stojanoski.
The study debunks claims that ‘brain-training’ apps can improve working memory, which is vital for learning and retaining information and in staving off memory loss. It was published in the journal Neuropsychologia earlier this month.
The findings further support those of a previous study led by Western neuroscientist Adrian Owen in 2010 that found getting good at brain games doesn’t improve working memory or enhance IQ. The 2010 research monitored cognitive performance in 11,000 people for six weeks as they brain trained.
While the daily digital mind workouts that rival classics like sudokus and crossword puzzles aren't likely to improve memory, Stojanoski notes there are steps that can be taken to advance brain health.
"Sleep better, exercise regularly, eat better, education is great – that’s the sort of thing we should be focused on," said Stojanoski. "If you’re looking to improve your cognitive self, instead of playing a video game or playing a brain training test for an hour, go for a walk, go for a run, socialize with a friend. These are much better things for you.”