Brain training software has limited effects

So, you’ve got one of those brain training applications and you think it might help you get into Mensa. Or maybe your sights are a bit lower and you just think it might boost your ability to think more quickly than you currently do or even keep calm in a crisis.

So, you’ve got one of those brain training applications and you think it might help you get into Mensa. Or maybe your sights are a bit lower and you just think it might boost your ability to think more quickly than you currently do or even keep calm in a crisis. Oh you poor, poor fool.

A survey of 11,430 people suggests that brain training games do not have an effect on overall brain power. The people in the study did get some benefits from playing brain training games. But the improvements were not transferable outside the games so that general reasoning, memory, planning and visuospatial abilities were not improved.

Participants in the study did brain training activities for at lest ten minutes a day three times a week for a minimum of six weeks. There were three groups to which people were randomly assigned. A third had activities designed to train their reasoning powers, planning and problem solving skills, a third worked on short term memory, attention, mathematical abilities and visuospatial skills, the remainder did Web browsing tasks that had no specific cognitive function targets.

None of the three sets of activities had a positive effect on people’s abilities to do everyday tasks, but not surprisingly people did get better at the specific tasks and games they were asked to do.

The research was carried out by the BBC and the volunteers were watchers of its Bang Goes the Theory popular science programme. There’s a special episode on TV tonight which will look at the issue. Catch it on BBC One at 9pm or on the iPlayer later.