Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Inaccurate claims of brain training benefits

I've been an avid supporter of Nintendo for the past two years or so, for their design prowess and dramatic success in widening the appeal of gaming. Indeed they're redefining recreational digital fun to include - shock - the learning of new skills. Brain Training in particular has been a left field success. I bought the game when it first launched in the US back in 2006 and was intrigued by the "less learning more often" principles built into the game play.

Now it appears the mainstream success is leading to some misleading claims. Sense about Science, a charity that promotes good science and evidence to the public has stated:

The big celebrity craze this year has been Nintendo’s Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training. The design of Brain Age is based on the premise that cognitive exercise can improve blood flow to the brain. Nicole Kidman said, “I've quickly found that training my brain is a great way to keep my mind feeling young” while Patrick Stewart, Julie Walters, Phillip Schofield, Fern Britton, Zoe Ball and Johnny Ball have also endorsed the product. The Sun says Patrick Stewart is impressed: “Getting my Brain Age down to 33 has become a fascinating and stimulating way to relax.”

Dr Jason Braithwaite, Cognitive Neuroscientist, University of Birmingham has responded with:

There is no conclusive evidence showing that the continued use of these devices is linked to any measurable and general improvements in cognition. While practice at any task should lead to some form of improvement for that specific task, it is not clear that this improvement reflects anything other than a basic learned process for that specific task.

Now I would agree with Jason's statement in so far as learning that is not contextually aligned to the environment of eventual practice is going to be harder to put to valuable use. So arguably a lot of the fairly abstract exercises in Brain Training do not obviously translate into real world activities.

I'd be interested in learning about any research that is being carried out in this area as I can't help feeling that while Jason's statement is true now, it won't be in the (near) future as virtual practice on devices such as the DS get closer and closer to mimicking real life activities.


Donald Clark said...

Check out 'consolarium' research.

Lars Hyland said...

Thanks for the pointer Donald.

To clarify do you mean here?


and here?

LTS Scotland Games Based Learning

Train your brain said...

I just saw a Nintendo claim that claims a 20 percent increase in students that have been using their software.