Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Do brain training programs work?

ScienceNow reports an interesting tussle over the effectiveness of brain training programs. BBC producers contacted Adrian Owen at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, U.K., to help design an experiment to test the efficacy of computer brain training exercises and tested them in 11,430 healthy adults who registered on a Web site set up by the BBC. One group trained on a program that emphasized reasoning and problem-solving skills, and another group trained on a program that emphasized different skills, including short-term memory and attention. A third, control group, essentially did busywork, hunting for answers to general knowledge questions on the Internet. All participants were asked to "train" for at least 10 minutes, three times a week for 6 weeks, and all received a battery of cognitive tests before and after this 6-week period....Not surprisingly, people in both training groups got better at the tasks they actually practiced. But that's as far as it went - none of the brain-training tasks transferred to other mental or cognitive abilities beyond what had been specifically practiced.

These conclusion are contested by Klingberg, who has published one of the few studies demonstrating benefits of training can generalize beyond a specific task. He notes subjects were trained only three hours in total.

I'm a bit puzzled over why the work of Jaeggi et al. showing the effects of short term memory training on general intelligence, which I have mentioned previously, was not mentioned.

1 comment:

Steven Aldrich said...

As CEO at Posit Science I want to weigh in on the question of evidence supporting the right type of brain training. There are many explanations as to why the BBC experiment did not show improvement – a likely one is that they built games that were not designed correctly. Our team at Posit Science knows how hard it is to create brain fitness training that creates a meaningful difference in the real world.

We were also puzzled why the IMPACT study, http://www.scribd.com/doc/17888028/Smith-2009-IMPACT-Study that enrolled nearly 500 people in a randomized, blinded, and controlled experiment was not included in the Nature article. That study used one of our products and showed significant improvements in participants’ memory when measured by a standardized test.

Another long-term study is the 2,800 person ACTIVE study, originally published in the Journal of American Medicine. Ongoing analysis of that research has shown a number of improvements in real-world measures such as depressive symptoms over a five-year period from speed-of-processing training, technology founding two of our products. And investigators have shown that speed-of-processing with UFOV® technology brain training reduced car crash risk and increased the likelihood of continued driving.

At best, the Nature article was incomplete.

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