back to article Study slams brain-training games' mental improvement claims

A survey has concluded that brain-training games don’t provide the rigorous mental workout you may have thought they did. Games such as Big Brain Academy on the Wii, and Dr KawaShima’s Brain Training on the DS, supposedly help keep your mind sharp by putting your brain through various mental exercises. However, a study by …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hold on...

    The results appear to show;

    1. That doing the games does mostly show an improvement.

    2. That it doesn't matter whether they are paper or DS based.

    But people do the DS variant, presumably because they enjoy it more...

    Looks like a net gain to the DS to me.

  2. Lionel Baden

    hu ?!

    Well after going round my mates this weekend and watching him fly through mathematical answers so quickly and get each and every one right.

    It teaches him to think quickly because the next question is waiting

    I teaches him to be confident too (as soon as he answers he knows wether to trust his judgement)

    just because its on a wii doesnt make it better.

    But using it does. I never got the impression they ever stated their method was better just that it worked and kids actually used it.

    I hate paper and pencil/pen !! hated school for that reason, hence shitty grades

  3. Britt Johnston
    Thumb Up

    You cant beat...

    ...the real thing.

    Next up, WII sports isn't as good for you as the London marathon.

  4. Nick Davey

    But aren't the games for oldies anyway?

    And I include myself in thas as I have a copy of Brain Training for my DS. The lowest "Brain Age" you can gain on the game is 20, I'd therefore take issue with the fact that 10 year olds were used for this study. I am hoping that their brain age is considerably below 20. But then again, scientists doing studies without neccesarily using the correct demographic is nothing new.

    I am sure there are 10 year olds who play it, but this study seems a little pointless.

  5. Red Bren

    Call me a pedant...

    Were the pencil and paper puzzles identical to the electronic version? Or were they in the same format as the before and after tests, which would only prove practice makes perfect.

    What change, if any was recorded for the control group? Without this baseline the other results lose their absolute meaning and could actually prove that using a brain trainer game is at least better than doing nothing.

  6. Duncan Hothersall

    Small rant

    For fuck's sake El Reg, next time you get some shitty, pseudo-scientific, headline-grabbing, gimmicky piece of shit "research" like this sent to you from the desperate PR department of a University, the only purpose of which is to stir up some false controversy, do the decent thing and tell them to stick it up their arses.

  7. Edward Noad

    Look at me! I'm in the news!

    So this study "slams" Brain Training games, and then goes on to show that actually it is beneficial, but a puzzle book from your local newsagent is better.

    "Do this paper-and-pencil puzzle book! It's just like a school exam, and you hate those" vs "Do this DS-based brain training game. It's just like a computer game and you like those". Go figure which will actually get uptake in da yoof of 2day.

    A work colleague of mine commented on my doing a logic puzzle from a book in my break, saying that her mother had forced her to do them when she was younger so she'd get a place in a good school, causing her to hate them.

    Of course, my puzzle book doesn't need to be recharged, doesn't need a carry case when I put in my bag, is lighter, cheaper, can be recycled much more easily and probably already has been several times, it just doesn't have a psuedo-progress meter or a graph of my IQ cross-linked with my brain age, BMI and bio-rythmns, or cute little animations when I win/lose/draw.

    So why do we by Brain Training et al? Because the marketing is better and puzzle books are sooooo uncool. Bet if we had Patrick Stewart advertising Puzzle Weekly as good for the mind, complete with minimalist furniture in the background and an added IQ test section in every issue, WHSmith wouldn't be able to keep them on the shelves.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Small study

    While interesting, I'd like to see this confirmed in a larger study. Having only 16-17 people in each group makes it a statistically weak result.

  9. Bassey

    So in fact

    So the conclusion appears to be not "they don't work" but, "they don't work any more than if you did them with a paper and pencil" which is the point of them, surely?

    So the headline could factually read "Study shows brain training games work as well as paper-based excercised".

    But that wouldn't grab many headlines now, would it?

  10. Phil Cooke
    Thumb Down

    Another pointless study

    All this proves is that there are benefits from both, as with most things.

  11. Bruno Girin

    Makes sense

    That sort of makes sense if you consider that the brain training games can easily be done with pen, paper and a stop watch. In addition, the way they are implemented on the DS is inherently prone to errors: the maths training for instance relies relies on hand-writing recognition and the colour/word match relies on voice recognition, both of them will sometimes go wrong thus counting a correct answer as wrong or the other way round. Another limitation of the DS game is it doesn't provide feedback when the answer is wrong so if you don't know the answer to 6x7 you won't learn it (well, not through the software anyway). A good improvement would be to have a summary screen at the end of the game with a list of all incorrect answers with their corrections.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Study missed a few things..

    First, as they seemed dead set against the idea of the brain games from the start they missed a great oppertunity to plug the carbon footprint reduction and penguin saving, tree preserving, ecco-greatness of a paperless solition. (Quiet down you lot in the corner grumbling about the possibly relevant carbon footproont of the DS and catridge).

    Second the study cohort was a bit on the small side condsidering the subject and data set. It's hard to belive that you'd see enough change in a data set that small unless you had horribly inflated expaectations.

    If I were going to try to run a one-sided study along these lines I would have included two extra study sets. One that just did some extra-curricular reading and project work on classical philosophy and logic, and one that learned Linux.

    Will linux sharpen your brain quicker than nintendo, and would we all be better off standing around in togas arguing about geometry and the rule of law?

  13. Andrew Moore


    ...the medium should not have a bearing on increase or decrease of IQ. If the kids using the pencil and paper were doing exactly the same tests as the kids with the DS the results should be roughly the same...

    Or did the kids with the pencils and paper get a more rigorous test?

  14. Anonymous Coward

    AC slams brain-training study.

    I never believed, or heard advertised, that brain training games were *better* than a pen and paper. Just that they excercised your brain. So "Alain Lieury, Imbecile Extraordinaire" has already done the wrong research.

    Then there's the notion that the same puzzle presented on a screen can somehow tax the brain less than on paper. That's as stupid as saying that the screen version is somehow better. Unless perhaps the good proffesor finds it that difficult to think AND use a pen.

    I'm also guessing that the "intelligence tests" that he performed at the end of his research were very similar or the same as the paper puzzles he set. Any way you cut it the final meaasures are tainted by the fact that they have to be similar to the tests themselves.


    “it is charlatanism to claim that it is a scientific test.”

    Prof Lieury, on his recent study

    Then, from the Telegraph:

    “If it doesn’t work on children, it won’t work on adults,” concluded Prof Lieury

    Wow, scientific stuff. So he's said there's definately no chance that doing puzzles on a screen uses any brainpower, based on the worthless results of a pointless test, wheras using paper instantly makes the puzzle itself more worthwhile.

    It still amazes me that anyone listens to the proffesor types. Most of them are basically too incompitent to make it in the real world, so they just sort of stay at their university. It just makes me angry that people actually listen to a man with just barely the level of competence required not to choke to death on his own tie.

  15. David Gosnell

    In other news, the Pope's announced his catholicism

    Of course there's nothing unique about "brain training" video games - other than their ability to engage a youth that cannot relate to anything that doesn't bleep or plug into a television. If one works on the basis* that the average teenager doesn't know which way round to hold a pencil, games such as these do at least provide some hope of mental stimulation and development.

    * totally made up, obviously

  16. ThinkingOutLoud
    Paris Hilton

    Guinness is good for you!

    'nuff said?

    Paris 'cos she's still trying to improve her brain by getting it f****d by brighter people!

  17. Chris

    @Makes sense (lol)

    "Another limitation of the DS game is it doesn't provide feedback when the answer is wrong so if you don't know the answer to 6x7 you won't learn it"

    Unlike paper, obviously. :/

    Pen, paper and stopwatch doesn't really come close. The enforced time limits and automatic scoring make the experience hectic. You can't cheat, and most importantly you can do the same length test, with different questions, and get a standerdised score.

    I actually like paper puzzles, but mostly word puzzles. Maths ones don't work as well as on a computer.

  18. Henry Wertz Gold badge
    Paris Hilton

    Seems to show it works...

    It seems this study shows the DS Brain Training works to me. Not better than pencil and paper, but I don't think Nintendo every claimed that.

    Except the memory -- what's the deal with the DS actually *decreasing* memory retention? (Note, I don't know what kind of memory tests/exercises Brain Training does, so I won't claim flawed research as a few did... I'm simply puzzled by this.)

    Paris, trying to train her brain...

  19. Jay Zelos

    re DS better than paper comments

    "Lieury discovered that the groups using the DS actually recorded a 17 per cent decrease in memory tests after seven weeks."

    Honestly, if you are going to flame about how the research is crap and the DS is at least as good as paper and pen, at least read the damn article.

    The DS may have increased logic and speed but it had a detrimental affect on memory, the paper and pen version had a significant positive effect. Bearing in mind one school in my area is wasting taxpayers money on 100 of the little blighters, I'd say its a pretty important point.

    I'm guessing its down to the fact you have to write the answers down rather than clicking a button, not sure how that squares with the control group though.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Fuck puzzles...

    Aren't there enough real challenges out there? If you need some mental stimulation, try:

    1. Creating a hobby electronics project

    2. Reading a book (or ten)

    3. Getting a compiler and writing a program that does something useful

    4. Learning to weld

    5. Learning a language

    or any one of a million other uses of your spare time that will *actually* teach you to think, while *simultaneously* helping the world. There is no such thing as "structured learning", only structured training...

  21. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Minimum brain age of 20

    Apparently brain exercise games sell on the myth that peoples' brains start rotting at age 20, and by 35 they are too stupid to be worth employing.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: hu ?!

    > I hate paper and pencil/pen !! hated school for that reason, hence shitty grades

    You got shitty grades because you're thick, lazy, can't think for yourself or a whole host of other reasons. I can't say I hated school as I was an infrequent user, in fact I probably spent more time sitting in the back of a police car being taken to school than I did in a classroom, that's way back when the police served the community and you got a clip round the ear for disrupting their tea break. Still got damn good grades though.

    As for the study. Practicing something makes you better at it. Shit, I never realised that. There's more; practicing something and writing it down reinforces it better than rushing through a series of clicks. This is getting to be too much to handle.

    These games reflect the laziness of modern society. People are happy to sit in front of a television set and watch whatever tripe is being broadcast, effort required is zero. The odd moment when a feeling of guilt over not actually doing anything useful creeps in they look for the easiest option. Brain games, dieting pills anything that doesn't involve effort and promises instant results. They remind me of a learning French book I read in which the class dunce was told he needed glasses. He was over the moon about this as only intelligent people wore glasses and therefore he was now intelligent. It appears that these games are the modern glasses, the new Emperor's clothes.

    It would be more interesting to survey those who have purchased these games to ask why they did so and what they expected as a result of doing so. Did they believe that their new found intellect would win them promotion at work or help them in some other way? Did they think they would be stopped in the street and told how intelligent they look? Maybe they were under the illusion that their equally stupid peers would notice a difference? There's a flaw in the last point but they wouldn't see it.

    I think it fair to say that those who do puzzle books already have fairly active brains and they do them for the pure fun of a challenge. The brain games seem to be aimed at the brain dead.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re DS better than paper comments

    >The DS may have increased logic and speed but it had a detrimental affect on memory

    That's why I said most.

    The irony of this is that the only reason the people in the study were doing the paper based test at all was because of the DS game. If that didn't exist they wouldn't have touched them, on that basis the DS game has actually caused an improvement in people who haven't even played it.

    Quite like Brent Gardners language suggestion in connection with this, wonder if computer games could make it more interesting?

  24. This post has been deleted by its author

  25. Fab De Marco

    Can anyone tell me why

    There was 2 DS groups. Therefore there were more children using the DS therefore more likely for there to be a greater thicko to talented kid ratio.

    Also why use 67 children in four groups? So each group consisted of 16.75 children, So is there any wonder one of the kids could not concentrate on the brain training, you just amputated his leg below the knee!

    Anyways, breaking down the stats

    33.5 kids on the DS

    16.75 on pen and paper

    16.75 on nothing.

    What about gender split, past (and better) studies have shown that men are good at logic puzzles and women are better at memory tests. were the groups slit up in equal genders? My thinking was that they wallked in and said spilt yourself up in groups of x. therefore the children banded with their friends (as they would) and the geeks were with the geeks and the "cool" kids with the cool kids. Therefore one group will of course do better than others.

    a DS will cost approx £100 they needed 34 of them. So someone decieded to spend near enough £3500 to find this information.

    unfair usage of figures and all in all a crap study.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Read, people!

    Everyone says "it's as good as pen and paper" -- no! It's as good as pen-and-paper for mathematical and logic skills, but it is *bad* for memory, so it's overall *not* *as* *good*.

    But of course the statistical significance of the study is questionable, anyway.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    re DS better than paper comments

    JonB wrote: :The irony of this is that the only reason the people in the study were doing the paper based test at all was because of the DS game. If that didn't exist they wouldn't have touched them, on that basis the DS game has actually caused an improvement in people who haven't even played it."

    Errr. Yes you're absolutely right. Those 10 year old children never usually have to sit paper based tests in school. In fact, some of them have never seen paper-based puzzles before. The teachers usually leech the answers straight from their brains via top-secret ESP that the government doesn't want you to know about.

  28. Martin Walker

    Not So Fast

    As others have pointed out Lieury's hypothesis and conclusions are sloppy. A broader ten week Scottish study last year came to the conclusion that the Nintendo games did improve math scores and by more than 50%. So take your pick.

    On the other hand, Nintendo isn't the best out there by far. For a study on a more serious tool Susanne Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl's study on Improving Fluid Intelligence by Training Working Memory (PNAS April 2008) recorded increases in mental agility (fluid intelligence) and short term memory of more than 40% after 19 days of focused brain training.

    I was so impressed that I contacted the research team and developed a software program using the same method so that anyone can achieve these improvements at home.


  29. Red Bren

    @AC - 11:38

    "Those 10 year old children never usually have to sit paper based tests in school... The teachers usually leech the answers straight from their brains via top-secret ESP that the government doesn't want you to know about."

    I think it's called "faith based" testing...

    Mine's the one with the Dawkins book

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