Apr 12, 2013
By: Alvaro Fernandez
I love reading the New Yorker. I have written before about bogus brain games, and about bogus brain training claims. We have published a 10-question checklist to help consumers make informed decisions.
All this is to say I was surprised to read a recent New Yorker blog article titled “Brain games are bogus.” If you are going to make such strong claims, you need to back them up with serious due diligence and analysis, and explain to readers what you can support and what you can’t, so they can make informed decisions, comparing option A to B and to C. Which the writer didn’t even try to do, choosing to tell an entertaining one-sided story, and throwing out the baby with the bath water along the way. (One of the companies mentioned in the article, Cogmed, just released this response.)
I would need a few thousand words to dispel the misconceptions and misinformation in the New Yorker article, so I won’t try here (book is coming!). Instead, I encourage readers to read the original article and Cogmed’s response and, above all, to spend time reading in detail what three resources of much higher rigor and importance have to say about cognitive training and brain training, compared to other alternatives available today:
- Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease and Cognitive Decline (prepared by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for the National Institutes of Health)
- Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project (prepared by Foresight for the UK government)
- Can interactive media boost attention and well-being? (prepared by Dr. Daphne Bavelier and Dr. Richard Davidson for the National Science Foundation)
Update (04/15/13): Scott Barry Kaufman just took the time to write a thoughtful article titled In Defense of Working Memory Training (SciAm blog).
It is questionable media “analysis” that inspired me a few years ago to include, as one of the Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains, this one:
- Don’t Outsource Your Brain. Not to media personalities, not to politicians, not to your smart neighbour… Make your own decisions, and mistakes. And learn from them. That way, you are training your brain, not your neighbour’s.
The state-of-the-art today, given that some forms of brain training seem to work and some (or many) don’t, is to ask, “what are the specific conditions under which brain training is more likely to translate into real-world benefits?” This is why we included this session in our 2012 virtual conference:
10.15–11.30am. Cognitive training vs. videogames vs. biofeedback: what “conditions” seem to influence transfer from training to real life benefit? As a number of non-invasive technologies get increased mainstream use, it is important to examine which “conditions” seem to mediate transfer from training to real life benefit.
- Dr. C. Shawn Green, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Dr. Adam Gazzaley, Director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center, UCSF
- Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO, Posit Science
- Moderated by: Brian Mossop, Community Editor, Wired
To be continued…