Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Large study finds brain training does not improve overall cognitive fitness

Brain training games are often promoted commercially as a way to build "mental muscle." Now a large randomized controlled study adds to the evidence that such programs don't work.

Investigators in Great Britain recruited more than 52,000 viewers of a popular BBC science program to participate in an online study comparing two types of brain training with a control condition. The investigators conducted online "benchmarking" evaluations before and after the study to assess four measures of cognitive functioning: reasoning, verbal short-term memory, spatial working memory, and paired-associates learning (the pairing of two words, which are then recalled together).

Participants were randomly assigned to one of three pathways. One brain training intervention consisted of six tasks that emphasized reasoning, planning, and problem solving. Another brain-training group, similar to commercial programs, involved tests of short-term memory, attention, visuospatial processing, and mathematics. The final pathway, which served as the control, had participants answer obscure questions using online resources. Participants in all three groups went online for a minimum of 10 minutes a day, three days a week for six weeks.

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