Brain training

According to an article I came across today in the Financial Times, computer games designed to improve your brain have only negligible effect on your mental ability and cognitive function.

Researchers at Cambridge University, Manchester University and King’s College London have carried out large-scale clinical trials of brain training games and found very little or no improvements in the participants who played the games. In some cases the control group showed more improvement than the brain training group. The conclusion is that while there’s no harm in brain training, apart from the cost of buying the programs, it doesn’t have any significant benefit either. The lead researcher, Dr Adrian Owen of Cambridge University, commented that,

“Brain training doesn’t do you any harm but you might as well do something else mentally stimulating, like learning a new language – it’s as good as brain training and you will be able to speak a foreign language.”

Have you tried any of these brain training programs? Have they been effective?

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This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

4 Responses to Brain training

  1. TJ says:

    I agree that learning a language does indeed train the brain and expand its horizons a bit, but when it comes to brain training we might as well talk about something specific and not general.
    In my studies in Physics and Mathematics I came to conclude that for every mathemtical problem that I come across, there is no real “routine” for solving it, but you have to study the mathematical formula yourself and, backed-up by knowledge of mathematical methods, you would be able to suit yourself with a handy process to simply or get an answer from a formula. Hence, what you might use for solving one problem, might not be the best way to solve it for someone else, sometimes.

    I remember my Geology teacher once told me that it takes around 30 years with plenty of field trips to make a good geologist. So, I can say each field or each learning experience expands the brain in specific way but not in general. Maybe learning a language would expand it in the area of logic and perception of different things, and possibly reasoning and relating. To me, I would say the process of creating a conlang was handy for me to some extent in boosting my ability to memorize.

  2. TJ says:

    sorry typo: simply = simplify

  3. Tommy says:

    In Japan, brain training games (like Brain Age on Nintendo DS), sudoku, and media related to the brain in general are very popular (“Mr. Brain”, Ken Mogi).

    I must admit that I am relieved to see that this research suggests that brain training programs have no significant benefit. I personally do not use these programs, but I observe people in Japan on the trains, in cafes, at home, at the airport seemingly filling (killing?) waiting time with these programs and other handheld games.

    Unfortunately I couldn’t access the link, even though I tried to register with FT. I guess the reference to “mental stimulation” is related to dopamine, but how are they measuring performance?

    This may be a tangent, but I’m sure I find the reference to foreign language learning in this quote a little shallow: wouldn’t there “higher” motives for learning foreign languages than just mental stimulation and real world practicality?

  4. Simon says:

    Tommy – here’s the part of the article about what the groups involved in the research did:

    One performed tasks linked to measures of general intelligence based on reasoning, planning and problem solving. Group two practised exercises found in brain training software, testing their short-term memory, attention, spatial judgment and maths skills.

    Group three acted as a control and was asked to answer obscure questions by searching the internet.

    Here’s the part about the results:

    After six weeks participants again took the benchmark test. Those who had been “training” their brains showed slight improvements, but no more so than the control group. In some tests, the control group had improved more than those who had been training.

    Improvements among the brain-trained volunteers were so slight that in order to recall an extra digit in a memory test, the games would have to be played frequently for four years.