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Nintendo Science Games

Brain Training Games Don't Train Your Brain 151

Posted by timothy
from the maybe-it-just-takes-more-than-6-weeks dept.
Stoobalou writes with this excerpt from Thinq.co.uk: "A new study has shown that brain training games do little to exercise the grey matter. Millions of people who have been prodding away at their Nintendo DS portable consoles, smug in the knowledge that they are giving their brains a proper work-out, might have to rethink how they are going to stop the contents of their skulls turning into mush."
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Brain Training Games Don't Train Your Brain

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  • by eln (21727) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @02:07PM (#31928948) Homepage
    No more brain training. It's back to killing it slowly with beer for me.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @02:12PM (#31929040)

    It's one thing to ask whether these tests make you "smarter". But even the story [bbc.co.uk] says they improve speeds in taking the brain tests. I also notice that the control group didn't just sit there doing nothing, they used the Internet, which may have "exercised the brain" in some fashion, assuming they weren't reading /.

    Also, there does seem to be evidence that mental activity can ward off Alzheimer's [npr.org] and "Research has also found that cognitive leisure activities reduce the risk of cognitive decline. [nyu.edu]"

    Maybe it doesn't serve a practical purpose for some people, but it seems among the elderly at least there may be some benefit (?)

    • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @02:38PM (#31929644) Homepage

      What really caught me was they said that doing the training sped up your ability to do things you trained on (duh). NPR gave the example of a baggage scanner where the number of bags going in and out changes, you you have to keep track of the number of bags in the machine at any given moment.

      So that may not be useful to your everyday life, and games that are similar aren't supposed to benefit. But what about the games you do in real life? As I remember, the first two Brain Training games Nintendo put out had many real world things like simple math problems (6 + 3, 7 * 5), reading analog clocks, and making change. These are all things people do in real life. Maybe doing tons of elementary math problems won't make you smarter, but it will make you faster and more confident when you have to do simple math, and that's a plus.

      Count the number of spinning yellow number 7s in this jumble may not be that applicable to real life, but some are.

      Nintendo never advertised the games would make you smarter. They framed it as "keeping your brain fit", like you keep your muscles fit by using them. There have been tons of copy-cats since Brain Training sold so well, and it wouldn't surprise me they claimed (or hinted) they would make you smarter. But doing simple math problems can't make you smarter, only better at simple math problems.

      • by Jurily (900488)

        But doing simple math problems can't make you smarter, only better at simple math problems.

        Given the current standards of education, doing simple math will soon count as smart.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sznupi (719324)

      Plus some kinds of activity seem to indeed increase performance of your brain...

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N-back [wikipedia.org]
      http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        That's cool.

        One bother though... if you try the NATO Phonetic mode, the speaker has a very heavy Asian accent.

    • by mea37 (1201159)

      What I find interesting is that you're questioning this study's negative assertion, when you should be challenging those who make positive assertions about the value of these games to show you a study confirming as much.

      "Well you've shown that the game doesn't do X, but I feel that it might provide some other benefit" doesn't mean anything unless it's backed up with a study that shows that the game provides that other benefit.

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        "Well you've shown that the game doesn't do X, but I feel that it might provide some other benefit" doesn't mean anything unless it's backed up with a study that shows that the game provides that other benefit.

        Which is why in the second half of their post, which you appear to not have reached before making your interesting post, they provided links. :)

        • by mea37 (1201159)

          Actually, I did get to the links before making my interesting point. And indeed your comment suggests that while you "got to them" in the sense of seeing they were there, you didn't click on them.

          From the first link:

          "The study finds that older people who regularly read, play cards and solve crossword puzzles can cut their risk of developing dementia by more than 60 percent."

          A study about reading, cards, and crosswords doesn't tell us anything about these games.

          The second link is about the effect of physica

          • by Chris Burke (6130)

            A study about reading, cards, and crosswords doesn't tell us anything about these games.

            Sure it does.

            The second link is about the effect of physical exercise on congitive decline.

            Keep reading. ;)

      • ...until someone forms something like an "ESRB for learning games" and bothers to employ some cognitive scientists full time to assess these claims.

        Or we could just let which company has the best marketing team decide which products we use for this sort of thing... that'll get good results. Not.

    • "Also, there does seem to be evidence that mental activity can ward off Alzheimer's [npr.org] and "Research has also found that cognitive leisure activities reduce the risk of cognitive decline. [nyu.edu]"

      But I would say that the study shows that the "brain training" games do not create much mental activity.
      I played one once, it was basically just a bunch of stupid mini games.

      I would bet most normal games would induce more brain activity then "brain trainers".

    • by deniable (76198)
      Newton's third law of medical research: For every finding, there's at least one equal and opposite finding.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Of course Brain training, Wii Fit etc. don't work. They're the video game equivalent of ab trainers - designed to appeal to lazy stupid people who think they can acquire a genius mind or a godlike physique by buying Nintendo's latest gimmick.
    • by moose_hp (179683)
      I already lost 21kg (46lb) on Wii Fit (started 2 months ago, about 3 hours daily) _and_ stopping eating between meals, while I know that 1 anecdote is not enough for a scientific study I wouldn't discard it so fast.
      • by JWSmythe (446288)

        But... you had two changes in behavior. One was beginning to play the WII. The other was reducing your calorie intake. Were there other changes too, such as eating a good diet, rather than junk food?

        I lost 20 pounds in a month, but it was a focused effort. The first was hard exercise more than one hour a day, 5 days a week. The second was a change in my diet, eliminating unnecessary calorie intake (no sugar/caffeine drinks), and eating up to 300 calories twice a day. And

    • I have kids that range from age 7 thru 17.
      We have Big Brain Academy.
      1. Many of the tasks are very similar to homework questions.
      2. We find the games entertaining.

      I have no doubt that practising this stuff is helping my youngest in school.
      I've also noticed an improvement in our ability in these specific tasks.
      Is it so easy to discount the idea that these skills won't help other areas?

  • by RealRav (607677)
    Please don't say I can no longer justify my Sudoku addiction!
    • by lorg (578246)

      While it probably doesn't do you any harm it will probably not improve your IQ if that is the goal.

      With that in mind, a large component of so called "iq tests" tend to be completing series, sequences or filling in blanks which this could quite possibly be training for. Possibly exception is that you are somewhat training or learning a specific method of solving problem thereby locking yourself into a specific mindset which might not apply itself very well to solving other type of problems.

    • by dudpixel (1429789)

      the study didn't mention anything about whether these games (or indeed any brain activity on a regular basis) succeed in holding off conditions such as Alzheimer's or dementia.

      I've always believed in the "use it or lose it" principle. This article doesn't even touch on that...

  • by tomcode (261182) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @02:13PM (#31929070)

    You can't stop your brain from slowly turning to mush. You may as well enjoy the ride.

    • by zero_out (1705074) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @02:25PM (#31929344)
      On average, PhD.s have much healthier brains than most people, even in their 90s or older. They have less incidence of dementia, alzheimers(sp?), and other forms of mental illness. Studies have shown that taking courses at community college, or learning a new language, can help sustain one's mental health in retirement.
      • by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @03:04PM (#31930106) Homepage

        Learning a new language is a good one. it forces you to generate new cells. Learning a middle eastern language when you are a westerner will really speed it up as it is so radically different.

        But that's not only for spoken language. learning a new programming language will also do the same thing.

        Basically, find a subject and start studying.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by PopeRatzo (965947) *

          But that's not only for spoken language. learning a new programming language will also do the same thing.

          As will learning to play a musical instrument.

          There was a great Professor Emeritus in English at the University of Chicago, Wayne Booth, who is someone I admired greatly and knew well for many years. He took up the cello in his 70s and got good enough to play in a string quartet in his living room for friends. He was sharp as a razor to the end of his life at about 85. He taught me what a great thing

          • by g4b (956118)
            I see now clearly, it does not matter what your choice of your EDITOR environment variable is, may it be vi, nano, emacs or Nota Bene, for a beautiful anthology post mortem.
      • by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @03:19PM (#31930356) Homepage

        On average, PhD.s have much healthier brains than most people, even in their 90s or older.

        Well, that settles it. I'm off to buy my PhD from the University of Phoenix. I can't wait until I can hang my diploma on the wall and bask in it's brain-preserving rays. ;)

        • by Xaedalus (1192463) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `syladeaX'> on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @03:44PM (#31930858)

          At the risk of being modded down (and the certain doom of being mocked), I feel compelled to follow up on this and feed the troll. I went the UoP route, and found out that many (perhaps most) of their online degree programs were little more than diploma mills at the time. And at that point I entered a rather profound depression because I realized I'd been a fool and had probably wasted tens of thousands of dollars (yes, smart people do get suckered too).

          However, it wasn't until later that I discovered that I might have actually lucked out. I got my Masters in Education - Curriculum & Instruction, which actually happens to be a very strong program in its own right, because of the sheer number of professional educators who take the UoP's Education grad-level courses, and teach them. All but two of my professors were educators, education professionals, or senior education management (the two that weren't - well, I considered asking for their photos to print out on my toilet paper so I could wipe my ass with their face - they were THAT bad). Not only that, but I learned a hell of a lot about education - the philosophy, the psychology, the pedagogy, and about how school districts operate when it comes to curriculum and teaching. And I was able to take all that information and apply it to my corporate world quite successfully. Which shocked the hell out of me because I initially thought my degree was worthless.

          If I must be flamed for saying I have a MAED from University of Phoenix, then flame me. I was taken in, as were many other people. But, surprisingly, I emerged with an actual graduate-level education in Education that was worth the hassle (which impressed my wife, who's a teacher herself), and has proved itself. I don't know now if UoP cleaned up their act. I suspect they have as they haven't lost their accreditation, the DoL hasn't found any new complaints, and now everyone and their uncle is getting in on the online education program.

          • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

            I'm surprised a the number of generalizations based on school - I went to a reputable school and met both good and bad professors. I've seen other schools, and they have their share. Some of the better schools have some terrible teachers, because they (schools and professors) are more interested in research results than teachers. Usually these become grad-asst. classes, but sometimes the bad teacher has to actually teach.

            I firmly believe your diploma should list the professors for your primary classes -

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Chris Burke (6130)

            If you were going to be flamed for anything, it should be for thinking I was trolling UoP graduates and replying with a lengthy rant that amounts to "Yes they're a for-pay diploma mill, but I managed to receive an education there in spite of this fact."

            Which is awesome for you, but what I want to know is can I still get my PhD without the education? I just want the piece of paper to stave off alzheimers. :)

        • Community is a great show:

          Jeff: They revoked my lawyer licence over some qualifications
          Duncan: I thought you had a bachelor's from Columbia?
          Jeff: Yes, and now I need to get one from America

        • and don't forget your pet hamster. it can get a diploma too.

      • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @03:46PM (#31930888) Homepage

        On average, PhD.s have much healthier brains than most people, even in their 90s or older. They have less incidence of dementia, alzheimers(sp?), and other forms of mental illness. Studies have shown that taking courses at community college, or learning a new language, can help sustain one's mental health in retirement.

        There's a correlation v. causation issue there. It isn't clear that the PhD.s have healthier brains because they are using them more or if they have healthier brains in a way that also allows them to get PhD.s

    • Sure you can, you just gotta deprive it of oxygen.

      Wait - did you mean remaining alive while stopping the process?

  • I have been using brain training games for about 10 years now, and now I'm able to type 15wpm.
  • Are these games advertised as having some benefit to your intelligence / memory / cognition / etc? Or is there some disclaimer somewhere saying that they might actually do nothing of the sort?

    Just wondering if consumers might have a right to claim their money back if the products have been falsely advertised.

    • by zero_out (1705074)
      I'm guessing it's the latter. They probably fall into the category of dietary supplements. They are not proven to be effective, but that doesn't mean they can't hint (strongly) at some benefit. X-Ray glasses are just a toy, and an e-meter is just a religious artifact.
      • Supplements? While I doubt that they do much for my abstract reasoning ability directly, I find huperzine, vinpocetine and phosphatidylserine to be effective enhancers of memory and attention, two components of overall intelligence. I also noticed that practicing memorization does seem to have an effect on my short-term memory, but nothing else.

        • by Imrik (148191)

          Whether they help is irrelevant, they have not been proven to help. So they are advertised in a way that suggests that they might help without saying it outright.

    • If the customer made a legitimate case that they only purchased the game for the health benefit they may be able to claim that there is implied warranty for a particular purpose, and at that they'd probably only get their money back minus the intrinsic value of playing the game for pure entertainment if the case went in their favor, which is unlikely. However, to prove such a claim would be incredibly difficult and would hinge on what claims the manufacturer made and if it could be clearly claimed to not h
  • Wait, what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Max Romantschuk (132276) <max@romantschuk.fi> on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @02:18PM (#31929170) Homepage

    Practicing any skill requiring cognitive functions technically trains your brain.

    The question is, what are the effects that people who play these kinds of games are hoping for?

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      to improve their IQ from 3 - 7 inches...
    • by fusiongyro (55524)

      If I had to guess, the effects are that they get better at playing these kinds of games.

    • The question is, what are the effects that people who play these kinds of games are hoping for?

      No, the first question is who buys these kind of games.
      My guess is that it's the same kind of people that buy stuff via tell-sell or something similar on tv. "That vacuumcleaner is going to change my whole life, there never has been a device that will benefit me as much as this one.. MUST HAVE!"

      Seriously, if you think you need game to train your brain I kinda doubt there is something that can be trained in the first place.

  • Brain Workshop [sourceforge.net] is a Dual N-Back game which may actually improve your brain.
    • by osu-neko (2604)
      The study would suggest otherwise. It will no doubt improve your facility at the specific tasks practiced in the game, but it's unlike to translate into any general improvement at anything.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jedwidz (1399015)

        But was Dual N-Back in the study?

        That's not a rhetorical question - I'd really like to know.

        Stating the bleeding obvious but apparently overlooked fact - the results of the study only apply to games included in the study.

        What's more, IIRC Dual N-Back is claimed to improve creative intelligence, not necessarily IQ. I suspect the study was based on IQ-style tests.

  • by garg0yle (208225) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @02:19PM (#31929194) Journal

    The article says, in essence, that the study found that using Brain Academy type software for six weeks did not improve cognitive function. However, nowhere does the study prove, as the article alleges, that use of such software could not slow the rate of cognitive decay. These are two entirely different things - the second one would require a long-term study tracking both users and non-users over, say, 20 or 30 years.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DeadDecoy (877617)
      Well, short term studies tend to be more tractable in academia due to limited funding. But I don't really find the results all that surprising. The brain games don't really challenge deeper cognitive functions but try to simply train your physical memory to react better to rudimentary problems. Jotting down 6 x 7 really fast isn't likely to expand your mind. If you really wanted to sharpen your brain, you'd study something like physics, philosophy, or music in greater depth. Those and other subjects use rud
  • I've always found that the "brain training" games are like memorizing multiplication tables, whereas true learning is like understanding that multiplication is a form of addition. Once I know how to learn, I can figure out whatever I need to. Once I learned that multiplication is a form of addition, I could multiply just about any number without having to memorize tables. I'd rather have understanding, which is slower but more robust and flexible, than memorization, which is faster but limited to the det
    • by MBCook (132727)

      The game isn't supposed to teach you math, it's supposed to help you keep simple skills up. Memorized multiplication tables won't tell you how to solve 17 x 193, because your table didn't cover that. You still have to know how to solve it through addition.

      But someone who has memorized the table and knows 7 x 9 = 63 off the top of their head will be able to carry out the problem faster that someone who doesn't know their tables as well, and has to think that 7 * 9 = 5 * 9 + 9 + 9 = 45 + 9 + 9 = 54 + 9 = 63.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Actually I saw this interesting documentary, and one of the reasons humans excel over animals is that we "learn" instead of "understand".

      With two test groups, one of children, the other of chimpanzees.

      The first test there is a black box. The instructor shows them to tap the top of the box with a stick, tap the sides of the box, slide a piece on the top over, and turn a crank, and out comes a tasty treat. The kids follow this exact process and get rewarded with candy. Chimpanzees also follow this process and

  • by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @02:21PM (#31929244) Homepage

    ...that your brain mostly benefited from doing different and new things. Trying new experiences, foods, languages, even things as simple as taking different routes to work and back create new paths in the brain which lead to quicker thinking and better recollection.

    But if you take one new thing (a video game puzzle) and do the shit out of it, the value is rapidly lost.

    At least that's how I've had it explained.

    • Yeah, I think this hits the nail on the head. Most people aren't doing those kinds of activities regularly, so adding it in now and again would be "flexing different brain muscles", as one description put it. Anything done routinely and not requiring too much active thought is not going to be as beneficial, brain-training games included.
  • From TFA: "...while you are noisily 'playing' with some worthless game where large-breasted ladies in not much clothing chop up mutant dinosaurs with giant chain saws" Where can I get this game?
  • by Pojut (1027544)

    I agree with Will Wright...playing something like Advance Wars [gamasutra.com] is a great way to exercise the brain, especially to get it jumpstarted in the morning.

    I personally prefer to play a few songs on Guitar Hero or play 20-30 minutes of Muramasa: The Demon Blade [wikipedia.org] while on my recumbent bike. My mornings are always much easier and I'm much more awake when I give myself the time to do that.

  • by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @02:25PM (#31929358) Homepage
    Anyone that thinks you'll go from a tard to a genius will be disappointed. However, practising anything improves you ability at that particular thing. Take normal video games and put a newbie in front of Contra and then stick in someone who has been playing it for years. There will be a huge difference. Some people see bigger gains than others. For instance if I continue playing Mega man games I do get better but I'll never master them. That and I don't think we should complain too much about something that helps people take interest in things like math over wasting their morning reading the Daily Mail, Sun or something equally brain damaging.
    • by evilviper (135110)

      Skill at Contra is extremely specialized. And is as much memorization as it is "skill".

      Take someone who has been playing Contra for years, and stick them in front of Quake 3, and see how well developed their "gaming skills" really are, as opposed to their "Contra skills".

      In short, playing a "brain training" game repeatedly will make you good at... playing that one single "brain training" game...

      If you find that game fun, be my guest, but let's not pretend there is going to be some benfit to your intellect.

      • by CrazyJim1 (809850)
        In short, playing a "brain training" game repeatedly will make you good at... playing that one single "brain training" game...

        I have a theory that if we turn all of human learning into a single piece of software that trains people about it, you could then give this to anyone in the world and they'll become educated with enough time behind it. Of course,"Live tutors" would be necessary. The software could be distributed for free.
      • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @03:27PM (#31930502)

        Take someone who has been playing Contra for years, and stick them in front of Quake 3, and see how well developed their "gaming skills" really are, as opposed to their "Contra skills".

        Yeah, up up, down down, left right, left right, B A doesn't work in Quake 3. So much for memorization.

      • The Contra player will most likely be better at quake 3 than the newbie though because he'll have a basic understanding of games in general.
    • by ignavus (213578)

      However, practising anything improves you ability at that particular thing.

      That's odd. The more I practise drinking, the worse my drinking gets!

  • So TV doesn't in fact rot your brain?

    • So TV doesn't in fact rot your brain?

      I've got some other revelations for you.

      That thing about the birds and the bees, not true. Also the tooth fairy...

  • We know from this ten-year-old study that playing bridge boosts your immune system [cnn.com], so clearly some forms of mental exercise have some forms of positive effects. Perhaps a better alternative to Brain Training would be playing bridge on your mobile device.
  • Turns out he's not actually a professor at all!
  • GNC and other stores have shelves and shelves of vitamins and herb extracts that don't actually improve your health. Frosted Flakes gets sold with health claims. Basically, the use of a spurious claim about improving mental acuity or health in advertising is so common that it's generally best to ignore those claims entirely, unless they're coming from your doctor.

    The people who stay sharp into their old age are people who are still actively using their brains and bodies as much as possible. For instance, Ju

    • by sznupi (719324)

      My (at the time) doctor once prescribed me something homeopathic. I've also heard about one quite complicated surgery (of knee?) which gives no better results than placebo. I'm sure there are more examples...

      • by Esteanil (710082)
        If your doctor prescribes a homeopathic, you may be coming across as slightly hypochondric ;-)
        • by sznupi (719324)

          Nah, I seek medical assistance only when I need to. Last time it was around 2.5 years ago, I believe...

  • Nothing like a good old-fashioned crossword puzzle to exercise the brain. Also, no pencil and eraser allowed. Pen only.
  • Actually, n-back HAS been proven to train your brain. It's available as a game on the iphone - "IQ booster" It's hard and fun. There's a free version online and some studies on it.
  • Sweet Game! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Noxzoul (1140823) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @03:15PM (#31930298) Homepage
    "some worthless game where large-breasted ladies in not much clothing chop up mutant dinosaurs with giant chain saws" I want this game.
  • At first, I thought this was a study of those biofeedback games. Those are pretty damn cool.

    And, since you learn to vary your heartbeat patterns and galvanic skin response levels, I'd say that would be training your brain to control your body.

    Anyway. Not too offtopic!

    Regards.

  • I have Brain Age and I always felt like Sudoku was more stimulating than the core game. Although the math game, where I had to do basic computations as quickly as possible did have practical applications. I found myself doing basic math more quickly and relying on the calculator less.

    But otherwise, it was relatively easy to peak at the games and sustain that level if I was playing on a regular basis. It's really no different than playing any other game except that Brain Age offered even less room for improv

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Wednesday April 21, 2010 @04:21PM (#31931556) Journal

    The test group should not have been playing on the internet, they should have been vegitating in front of reality-tv. Those brain training games are not about stimulating an active mind but a stagnant one. It is for people who do nothing else that requires any thinking at all. Like slashdot editors...

    It is the same as taking the stairs, that is not going to make an olympic gymnast any fitter, but for a cubible dweller, it can make a difference when it is the only excersise in the day.

    Almost any gamer will not need these games, they are already playing. Brain games are for people who don't do anything else with their brain.

    Tomorrow: Nintendogs not good for people with a real dog.

  • My guess is they didn't account for environmental factors like the logic-destroying effect of polarized politics.

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