Research Shows That Brain Training Is Nothing But The Placebo Effect

Brain training is a billion dollar industry, and it may be nothing more than a sham.

6. 23. 16 by Cecille De Jesus
Science Photo Library
Image by Science Photo Library

Its all in the advertising

An experiment conducted by a team of researchers at the George Mason University finds that they can achieve what paid brain training programs claim—using a simple trick.

They used two posters with different advertising messages to attract participants, but both posters lead to the exact same study, and the exact same activities. One poster mentioned brain training and cognitive enhancement and citing studies that claim they can increase fluid intelligence. The other poster used the same design but simply offered credits for participation in a study.

Image Credit: Foroughi CK, et al.

Fifty recruits were accepted to participate. The 25 participants lured by “Cognitive Enhancement” were the placebo group and the other 25 who responded to the promise of credits were the control group.

All 50 participants took standardized tests to measure their fluid intelligence. Next, they played an hour of a brain training game. Finally, another fluid intelligence test was conducted to measure any changes. The results showed that the placebo group did better on this test, scoring around five to ten IQ points higher than their first test. The control group showed no such changes.

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This implies that the expectations set by the posters prior to the activities may have been responsible for the IQ rise and not the games themselves.

False Advertising

While video games in general have certain benefits in training parts of the brain and can be used as a highly effective educational tool, brain training programs may need to tone down their claims.

Early this year, online brain training company Luminosity had to shell out a hefty $2 million fine for false advertising. “Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease,” says Jessica Rich, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.“… Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.”

Until these companies can come up with scientific evidence to back up their claims, experts show that this is likely nothing but a scam.

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