Can Playing a Free Computer Game Actually Make You Smarter?

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I’ve seen a lot of advertisements lately, both on the net and TV, for brain training products like Lumosity.  Nintendo DS also has a very popular game called Brain Age.  All told, brain training is a billion dollar a year industry, but does it work?

 

In 2009, BBC Labs UK designed an experiment to answer that question.  Led by Dr. Adrian Owen, a British neuroscientist, they created a number of games that were representative of those on the commercial market and tested them on over 13,000 participants.  Each participant was placed into 1 of 3 groups; the reasoning game group (games involve planning, problem-solving and analysis), the non-reasoning game group (games involve short-term memory, attention to detail, maths and interpreting visual information), and the control group (asked to just use the internet to find the answers to simple questions, like when did Henry the VIII die).  Each group was asked to play for 10 minutes 3 days each week for 6 weeks.

 

After 6 weeks, what did they find?  They found that the participants got better at the games but they didn’t get any smarter.  Using 4 benchmarks to test both memory and problem solving, it was clear the 2 test groups fared no better than the control group.

 

Studying Hard

photo by English106

So there you have it, you can’t train your brain… right?  Not so fast!  A 2008 study published in PNAS demonstrated a significant increase in fluid intelligence (problem solving that doesn’t require stuff you already know) by training the working memory.  They got these results with just 19 days of training 20 minutes per day.
So why did this game work, when the 12 games tested by the BBC didn’t?  Dr John Jonides has a couple theories, but frankly I don’t really care.  I just want something that works.

 

The game used in the 2008 study is called the Dual N-Back Task.  I agree, that’s a terrible name for a game, but in my experience after about 20 minutes it feels more like a task than a game anyway.  I wish I would have taken the time to take an IQ test before I started because I have to say that training the task each day has at the very least improved my ability to focus on my projects.  You know the voices in your head that remind you that you’re out of milk when you’re trying to finish a report that’s due by 3pm?  Well, they’re not gone, but I don’t seem to hear as many of them.  On top of that, I can honestly say that I’m the smartest person sitting in my office at the moment.

 

You can have all this for the low low price of FREE, or 3 easy payments of $0.00.  So here’s the link where you can download a free copy of the Dual N-Back Task.
http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/

 

Get started now and please let me know how it goes!

 

The BBC Labs Study

http://www.bbc.co.uk/labuk/results/braintestbritain/_in_depth.html

N-Back Study

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2008/04/25/0801268105.full.pdf

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Co-Founder of NutritionGeeks, retired USAPL drug-free powerlifter, volunteer youth wrestling coach, father of 3 amazing boys and interested in all things health

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