Do brain training games actually work?

11 Jan, 2008

Brain training is big business. Since Dr Kawashima popularised the concept amongst the masses with Brain Age/Brain Training for Nintendo DS, we've been overwhelmed with games dedicated to head-sponge workouts. But do brain training games actually work? Of course, we're not smart enough to answer that question, so we were pleased to find that it's a topic covered in the January issue of New Scientist magazine.

The feature contains plenty of neuroscientist debate on the matter and covers brain training programs that would make Kawashima's offerings look like Sesame Street. Thankfully, the article's author, Graham Lawton, provides a succinct - nicely quotable - summary.

"All things considered, it's hard not to conclude that brain training has been proven to work - under certain circumstances," Lawton writes. "It's also worth pointing out that no study has shown that brain training makes cognitive abilities any worse." So, there's no risk and there's every chance it's good for your noggin. What is there to lose?

Above: Nicole Kidman. Televisual promoter of Brain Training in Europe

Unfortunately, it's not all cerebral roses for Nintendo who, the article points out, doesn't provide any evidence that its games can actually lead to noticeable improvements in brain functions. Instead, "the company is careful not to claim that Brain Age is scientifically validated, merely stating that it is an entertainment product 'inspired' by Kawashima's work." And for neuroscientist Mike Merzenich, evidence is all-important to give credibility to any brain-training program - "It's crucial, or you're making it up."

With more than 14 million copies of the Kawashima-inspired game sold worldwide (and God knows how many DS handhelds with it), surely Nintendo would be in a prime position to fund some proper scientific research to see if its money-spinner was actually good for its customer's brains? Whaddya reckon Nintendo - a no-brainer, surely?