Within the last couple years, people have become increasingly interested in self improvement of things such as memory, intelligence, reaction speed, and so on. To achieve this higher level of brain functioning, many people have turned to cognitive training, also known as brain training, games. Websites and apps such as Lumosity, Brain Age, and Brain Wars allow people to play games to practice mental skills and “exercise their brains”, do but these games actually do what they claim?
The video below is a commercial for one of the most popular brain training games, Brain Age, played on the Nintendo DS.
The commercial states that “cognitive exercises can stimulate your mind through increased blood flow to the brain.” Many studies have been conducted to test the validity of what these cognitive training games claim to do. The studies all boil down to the same conclusion: not enough evidence can be found as to whether brain games significantly increase mental functioning. While many different researchers found results and had believed they had truly found a way to increase brain functioning, the studies were later found to have flaws.
There are two different types of intelligence to take into account when conducting studies like these: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. Fluid intelligence is defined as the ability to think rationally and solve unusual problems, and is difficult improve. Through meta-analysis of 23 separate studies, researchers Monica Melby-Lervåg and Charles Hulme found no significant evidence that brain training showed any increase in an individual’s fluid intelligence. Like any task that one does repeatedly, players of brain games will get better at the certain tasks they are asked to perform, but a boost in their overall intelligence is too broad of a conclusion to make. The tasks performed in brain training games do not necessarily carry over into real-life situations, and therefore, a rational conclusion cannot be made as to whether an individual’s “real-life” intelligence is improved.
Crystallized intelligence, on the other hand, can much more easily be improved and increased. Crystallized intelligence is defined as an individual’s acquired knowledge and skills. To improve crystallized intelligence, you could learn to play an instrument or play a new sport. You could teach yourself to solve a Rubik’s cube or study chemistry. Any task where you are acquiring new knowledge is going to increase your crystallized intelligence at a much faster rate than one can improve their fluid intelligence.
Overall, not enough information has been found to prove brain training can do exactly what it claims to be capable of doing. A flawless study has yet to be conducted in which the placebos and confounds are strictly monitored in a way that they won’t skew results. This is not to say that brain games should not be played. Some of the games can be carried into real life situations, such as simple math equations and pattern recognition practice, but if you really want to increase your intelligence, step out of your comfort zone and try new things. Expand your horizons to acquire new knowledge in all different areas of life! The time people are wasting playing brain training games to improve their mental functioning could be put to much better use by putting down the game and learning new material on their own.