Smarter

The new science of building brain power

Actually, Yes, Brain Games Can Boost Brain Power

A closer look at the claims of skeptics who doubt that you can get smarter
This post is a response to Do Brain Games Really Boost Brainpower? by Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D.

 

A new blog on Psychology Today's website, by University of Texas neuroscientist Sandra Bond Chapman, states that "While the games are fun and engaging, there is insufficient scientific evidence to suggest brain training as it exists now can significantly improve an individual's higher-order cognitive ability."

The study Dr. Chapman links to was conducted by Adrian Owen, who looked only at the effects of a program similar to Dr. Kawashima's Brain Age, the Nintendo program that has never claimed to improve cognitive abilities. When I called and asked Owen about the pioneering research of Susanne Jaeggi, involving a form of working-memory training called the N-back, he told me: “I think a lot of the work that Jaeggi has done is excellent. Her working-memory task is unlike anything commercially available. It’s enormously difficult. I think Jaeggi and colleagues are chipping really diligently away at this question of whether you can train fluid intelligence. It’s very likely you can, if you work out the components. Why wouldn’t you be able to get better at fluid intelligence? I do think Jaeggi and her company have done some superb work. I do hope they keep at it.”

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As with any young science, the field of cognitive training has its share of skeptics. An excerpt of my new book describes some of the research showing that certain kinds of training programs do have significant benefits. Over a hundred studies of various training methods have now been published, showing that people with learning disabilities, even people with Down syndrome, can benefit. 

Certainly some companies make claims for brain training that are not supported by the scientific literature. But no one should doubt that significant progress is being made toward finding training regimens that can help young and old, those who are disabled and those who are high-performing. 

Dan Hurley is a science journalist and author of the new book, Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power
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