Brain Training… does it work?

Last week I blogged about factors that affect memory; age, stress and drugs, and some comments on this blogs noted ways to reduce these factors to remove the effect on memory, so I thought for this week I would move forward on to look at ways of impoving memory.

When I first thought of how to impove memory I thought about these brain training games that are always advertised on televsion, I have to admit that when they first came out I did have one, Dr Kawashima’s brain training for DS, although I do not think it made my memory any better I did improve on the tasks that were set by the game.

The aim of these games such as the ones by Nintendo, Lumosity and other companies are set to improve the working memory. These training games use both verbal and non-verbal tasks such as reasoning and comprehension. But do they work???

So when looking for research in this area I thought with there being such a big market for these kinds of games that I would find a wealth of evidence to support the use of these kinds of games, however when loooking this was not the case, some studies are able to support that these games work for older adults (Smith et al. 2009) and Thorell et al. (2009) show significantly better effects on working memory when used on preschool age children. However, studies have failed to find that these games improve working memory in the general population or that these skills that are trained on the games trasfer to other tasks, even when they are closey related (Owen et al. 2010).

Although the research shows that for people in the general population these games could be a waste of money, they could be useful in pre-schools, as they have been shown to be effective in children this age. Although you may think that this could prove costly, this is not the case, a quick look on the app store shows a lot of free games of this nature, and there a free downloads on the internet too. This could be a fun way for the children to improve their general cognitive functions.

6 thoughts on “Brain Training… does it work?

  1. I like how your blog cuts right to the chase, and it’s interesting the topics you bring up. I had never really given much thought as to whether these brain training games work or not, but after reading your blog I must say that I’m pretty glad I never bought one!
    I think perhaps that the aim of these games for the general population may be to get our brains working rather than simply watching TV or something similar. As you say in your blog, it has been shown to improve older and younger generations’ memories, but perhaps for the general population they are designed to keep our minds stimulated rather than improve memory.
    So how can we improve our memory if not by using these games?? Maybe in the food and drink we consume! It has been shown that those eating a high soya diet demonstrated significantly improved short term and long term memory (File et al., 2001); and even drinking alcohol! Parker et al. (1980) found that immediately after learning, the consummation of 1 ml/kg of alcohol significantly improved consequent recall.
    So with regards to the brain training games you mention, it sounds like the jury’s still out, but if it works for an individual then there’s no reason to stop! However, keeping our minds active is obviously a good thing, but this doesn’t mean that I will personally be investing in one of these games 🙂

    – Eating soya improves human memory. (File et al., 2001).
    – Retrograde enhancement of human memory with alcohol. (Parker et al., 1980).

    • I agree that getting our brains working is one of the key benefits of these brain training games, I found a study that evalusted the ‘use it or lose it’ hypothesis in memory. Salthouse (2006) looked at the effect of mental activity on menatal aging and found that although there is a loack of empiricle evidence in this area that there are benefits to doing mental exercise.

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  3. I like your week´s topic and think that the question for the effectiveness of brain training is quite controversial. I think that brain training has a positive effect on learning when continuously practiced. Next to being fun, like you mentioned, they motivate to learn while playing a game and increase the amount that children play these games. I think that without these games children would invest less time into learning. Miller et al. (2009) found out that an experimental group of 10 and 11 years old children playing a ´brain training´game 20 minutes every day compared to children learning “Brain Gym” techniques or who received no treatment in a time period of 10 weeks showed more accuracy and speed of calculations. Moreover they demonstrated gains in global self-esteem through receiving feedback on their results. Passey, Rogers, Machell and Mchugh (2004) state improved confidence associated with ICT, reporting claims from teachers of enhanced pupil self-esteem. Gee (2003) argues that playing computer games provides a common ground in shared norms, values and beliefs associated with commercially available games. A necessity for educational games is to be as similar as possible to these games in order to be fun and motivating (Ma, Williams, Prejean & Richard, 2007). Nacke et al. (2009) found out that logic problem solving in computer games are more positively associated within the elderly population. This indicates that there are different interests and key aspects in different age groups.

    To conclude, I think there has to be more research on the effectiveness of brain training games. Moreover these games have to be similar to commercial games so that children become interested in it. But ones children play intrinsically motivated these games it has beneficial effects as outlined above.

    Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. London: Palgrave.

    Ma, Y., Williams, D., Prejean, L. & Richard, C. (2007). A research agenda for developing and implementing educational computer games. British Journal of Educational Technology, 38, 3, 513–518.

    Miller et al. (2009).

    Nacke et al. (2009).

    Passey, D., Rogers, C., Machell, J. & McHugh, G. (2004). The motivational effect of ICT on pupils. London: DfES/University of Lancaster. Retrieved May 29, 2008,

  4. After reading your blog, I was intrigued by this topic, a little research led me to Belchior et al’s (2013) research into the effectiveness of gaming on visual attention for older adults. Interestingly they used four participant groups, three gaming groups and a no contact control group.

    1.Medal of Honor (target practice game)
    2. Tetris (placebo control arcade game)
    3. UFOV (a clinically validated training program)
    4. no contact control group.

    The results found that there was a significant improved post test score for the UFOV when compared to the gaming groups and all three intervention gaming groups performed better than the non-control group.

    This is especially interesting because although the clinically validated group performed better the gaming groups did better for visual attention than the control group, this suggests that any gaming (even good old Tetris) can help with visual attention in older adults. Although you may ask, what does this have to do with education. With an increasing number of mature students going into education through access courses and vocational paths, helping visual attention for learners could help. I therefore would argue regular gaming (not just the expensive brain train) should be promoted within learning environments to improve visual attention.


    Belchiora, P.Marsiskeb, M. Siscob,S,M.Yamb,A. Bavelierc,D. Balld, K. Manne, W, C (2013) Video game training to improve selective visual attention in older adults. Computers in Human Behavior. 29,(4), PP 1318–1324. Retrieved from-

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