FYI: Brain Training Games Don't Actually Train Your Brain

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
With the looming threat of Alzheimer's disease, which some estimates say affects more than 5 million Americans, it's wonderful to think that you can stave off age-related memory loss with something that's simple and actually fun to do.
That's the promise of brain-training game apps like Lumosity, which claim to make your memory sharper, your reflexes quicker, your attention stronger, and sometimes even to help you sleep, all by playing games on your phone or computer.
But why should you shell out hard-earned money (a basic Lumosity package costs $5 a month, or about $60 a year) for brain-training games when you could play Candy Crush for free?
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According to many studies, you shouldn't. While research done by Lumos Labs, the company that runs Lumosity, claims that these games are scientifically designed to strengthen your brain, research done independently of the company finds again and again that the only things these games help people get better at is playing these games.
The newest among these studies finds that brain-training games don't do anything to bolster decision-making skills, Reuters reports. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine split 128 participants into two groups, one of which played "science-backed" brain-training games on Lumosity for 10 weeks and one which played regular online video games.
MRI scans were taken of all participants' brains before and after the 10-week study to measure brain activity as they were asked to make decisions, and there were no differences between the two groups.
While 128 is admittedly a small study and a Lumosity spokesperson questioned the scope of this particular study, the company has had to pay for false advertising in the past.
In 2016, Lumos Labs agreed to pay $2 million in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, which accused the labs of deceiving people with claims that their games could help them get smarter or avoid memory loss.
“Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease,” Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement about the settlement. “But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.”
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Although Lumosity had to inform its customers of the FTC's accusations and offer them an easy way to cancel their subscriptions, the company still exists and still claims that playing Lumosity games can boost your cognitive abilities.
For now, maybe we'll stick with Candy Crush.
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