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Brain Games Might Make You Sharper - At Brain Games, That Is

Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Tue, Mar 18th 2014

brain image on laptop screenLuminosity. Happy Neuron. Cogmed. Do these names sound familiar to you? If so, you've probably engaged in brain games on your computer. You might have done it just for fun, but a growing number of people engage in computer brain games in hopes of improving their cognitive functioning. In other words, they are worried about their memory, sharpness, and performance at work or at home. Brain game companies promise that their games will stave off cognitive decline by training the brain to work faster and more effectively. But do they really work?

A recent article in The New York Times suggests that the science behind brain games isn't so solid. Here are a few examples:

  • A meta-analysis of 23 brain game research studies in February 2013 concluded that while brain games do help people improve performance on those brain games, the benefits do not generally transfer to other tasks. In other words, you might be able to match up complex tile patterns in a brain game with increasing speed and acuity, but that doesn't mean you'll start seeing visual-spatial solutions to work projects any faster or more often.
  • On the upside, a study in September 2013 did show that a driving game improved memory and concentration in older people. The study was encouraging because the benefits did seem to expand beyond the game.
  • In January 2014, the largest study that used scientific procedures like random assignment to groups and a control group tracked older adults who completed 10 60-75 minute cognitive training sessions over 5-6 weeks. Over the 10 years after the training, the participants who participated in the sessions had 50% fewer car accidents than those in the control group who did not receive the training.

As you can see, the research about brain games is kind of a mishmash. While targeted brain games might improve driving and related skills in older people, there isn't much evidence showing that the vast number of brain games designed to make people sharper at all ages really works beyond the games being played.

I offer this to you not as a disappointment, but as a reality check. You see, a lot of these brain games cost money! As a consumer, you deserve to have the information you need to make conscious choices about how you spend your income. If brain games are fun for you and you're not worried about staving off dementia, then the money might be well spent. But if you're looking for a guarantee to be free from cognitive decline, think again.

I recently received an email touting a game that could determine whether you would ever develop Alzheimer's disease. "If you can complete this game successfully, you will never have to worry about Alzheimer's!" the email proclaimed. This struck deep fear in my heart. Not only do brain games fall short of improving cognitive functioning on a broad, lasting level - they absolutely cannot be used to diagnose or predict a person's health status!

So please complete your Sudoku puzzles to your heart's desire - just know that it may simply result in you becoming a fantastic Sudoku player and nothing more. And that's okay.


Parker-Pope, T. (March 10, 2014). Do brain workouts work? Science isn't sure. The New York Times:


Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.

Itís a true blessing to have you visit my blog on mental health and wellness. I also write blogs on faith and caregiving in addition to teaching part-time for Columbia College of Missouri. For more information about my background and writing, visit my webpage at

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Concerned about Lumosity Score - Alan - Jan 22nd 2015

I had a quadruple bypass in 2004 and ever since then I have felt like I was 'a step behind' my previous ability to concentrate and focus on projects. I am now 62 years old and recently signed up for Lumosity. I have completed 3 training sessions and have also completed my Brain Test. My scores in comparison to others in my age group are abismal! I'm in the 4th or 5th percentile in most of the measures. When I bumped the age group comparison up to 75+, my comparisons were still in the 10th to 12th percentile.

My IQ was measures at 140 prior to my surgery and I completed my college degree in Philosophy and Religion in 2009 (38 years after my first college class), and immediately enrolled in a Masters of Humanities program and received my degree in 2013. I have always considered myself to be of above average intelligence but am now wondering if I have a problem. Frankly, I'm concerned about dementia, and Alzheimers.

Anyway, for some reason I believe I just needed to put my fears out there for others to consider.

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