Do Brain-Training Exercises Really Work?

While some scientists laud the benefits of brain training, citing its ability to improve brain plasticity and cognition, others argue that there is little proof that the exercises work. What these experts do agree on, though, is that there are different types of exercises; brain training and brain games. And the difference between the two is huge. Brain games are exactly that, games to entertain the user. Brain training, on the other hand, is backed by research, and it is these that could open up the possibilities of a brain’s potential.

Because the brain-training industry is relatively new, studies surrounding it are few – and certainly not enough to make a valid decision on whether training the brain is of any tangible use to the trainee. Research now is at a pivotal point, according to Dr. Adam Gazzaley, the founding director of the Neuroscience Imaging Centre. He believes that the exercises we currently have available fail to engage with the brain in a deep way to engage with it.

Gazzaley is seemingly backed by a research paper published recently in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, which claims that there is not enough evidence to support brain training’s ability to boost cognition. Their main concern is the lack of control for placebo effects in the evidence that currently exists to support brain training.

One person who does support brain training is neuroscientist Henry Mahncke, who is the CEO of brain-training software company Posit Science. He cites many scientific studies which he calls high-quality. It’s worth noting, however, that these were the same studies discredited in the earlier research paper. His argument for their validity comes from his belief that they are using outdated theories to explain why brain-training cannot work, calling it an uneven-handed review.

Posit Science are the makers behind DriveSharp, a brain-training program, which has been proven to enhance the visual capabilities of older drivers, helping them respond more quickly to hazards in the peripheral vision. It has even been pushed to AAA, who have chosen to partner with them, offering its members aged 55+ the software at a discounted price.

The program uses multiple object-tracking tasks and visual attention tests, which Mahncke says can decrease the chances of an at-fault crash by 48%. This result was argued by the research paper, which says that this works out to approximately one less at-fault crash every 62.5 years, and the data provided is most likely just noise because of the small amount of crashes in the sample.

While there is some evidence to support the use of brain training, there is also a counter-argument against the need for brain-training, too. Maybe, for now, it is best to say the jury is out, and a wise scientist may use the limited studies available as a call to action.