on Brain Fitness: Tree or Forest? pub­lished yes­ter­day a thought-pro­vok­ing arti­cle focused on Posit Sci­ence’s Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram, titled Buff Up Your Brain, that com­bined a) some pret­ty good analy­sis and great points about that spe­cif­ic pro­gram and jus­ti­fi­able (to a point) crit­i­cism of the com­mer­cial tone of a recent PBS Spe­cial, with b) the error of con­fus­ing a tree with the for­est, that led the author to make sev­er­al unwar­rant­ed claims regard­ing the field.

Com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing has been around since way before Posit Sci­ence, and will be here way beyond Posit Sci­ence (and Sharp­Brains, and, and their audi­to­ry pro­cess­ing prod­uct-fea­tured in the PBS Spe­cial- is not, in our view, the most par­tic­u­lar­ly impres­sive exam­ple. Well-direct­ed cog­ni­tive exer­cise can enhance men­tal skills and trans­fer to real-life out­comes, act­ing as a good com­ple­men­tary tool, when used prop­er­ly, to oth­er lifestyle options and tools.

For exam­ple, we read that “At present, the only way a brain fit­ness pro­gram can demon­strate its val­ue is through tra­di­tion­al “neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal test­ing.”” and that “But it isn’t easy to cre­ate a dou­ble-blind study for a com­put­er­ized brain exer­cise program.”

I sus­pect the author is not famil­iar with Dr. Torkel Kling­berg’s work, for one, sum­ma­rized in this list of sci­en­tif­ic papers:,

or many of the oth­ers men­tioned in the End Notes of our recent report, such as

- 4*Willis et al: “Long-Term Effects of Cog­ni­tive Train­ing on Every­day Func­tion­al Out­comes in Old­er Adults.” Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion. Vol­ume 296, 23: 2805–2814, 2006.
— 6*Green & Bave­li­er. “Action video game mod­i­fies visu­al selec­tive atten­tion”. Nature 423:534–537, 2003.

- 22*Kasten et al. Com­put­er-based train­ing for the treat­ment of par­tial blind­ness. Nature Med­i­cine, 4, 10831087, 1998.

- 23*Cicerone: “Evi­dence-Based Cog­ni­tive Reha­bil­i­ta­tion: Updat­ed Review of the Lit­er­a­ture From 1998 Through 2002”. Arch Phys Med Reha­bil. 2005. Cicerone: “Evi­dence-based cog­ni­tive reha­bil­i­ta­tion: rec­om­men­da­tions for clin­i­cal prac­tice.” Arch Phys Med Reha­bil. 2000.

- 24*Olesen et al: Increased pre­frontal and pari­etal brain activ­i­ty after train­ing of work­ing mem­o­ry. Nature Neu­ro­science, 7(1): 75–79, 2004.

- 37*Gopher et al:“Transfer of skill from a com­put­er game train­er to flight”, Human Fac­tors 36, 1–19, 1994.
— 38*Hart & Battiste:“Flight test of a video game trainer.“Proceedings of the Human Fac­tors Soci­ety 26th Meet­ing (pp. 1291–1295).
— 39*Shebilske et al: “Revised Space Fortress: A val­i­da­tion study”. Behav­ior Research Meth­ods, 37, 591–601. 2005.

Or the ones we review in more detail, from researchers such as John Gabrieli and Kar­lene Ball.

So, please, let’s clar­i­fy: are we talk­ing about a tree, or per­haps even sev­er­al trees, or the forest?

And, when talk­ing about one spe­cif­ic tree, can we please clear­ly state what tac­it hypoth­e­sis is being refut­ed: whether it is  a “gen­er­al solu­tion” or not (in our view, no pro­gram is) or a spe­cif­ic tool, that, like any tool, can be use­ful in the prop­er context?

And now, good night!-as we saw recent­ly, sleep is a much need­ed, inex­pen­sive yet time-con­sum­ing, brain fit­ness pro­gram

A cou­ple relat­ed posts

- It is Not Only Cars That Deserve Good Main­te­nance: Brain Care 101

- 10-Ques­tion Pro­gram Eval­u­a­tion Checklist


  1. Bill Case on April 29, 2008 at 11:36

    After two TIA strokes my brain is lim­it­ed. If I hear some­one go into a com­pli­cat­ed dis­cus-sion, my brain will shut down. Mem­o­ry of even impor­tant dates are elu­sive. This is since my last stroke. I had to wait 12 hours for treat­ment in the emer­gency room–after both strokes! The hos­pi­tal had no rooms avail­able, so no one would even look at me until I was admitted.
    My long-term mem­o­ry works pret­ty well. I can remem­ber names of movie peo­ple from 50 or more years ago.

  2. Alvaro on April 30, 2008 at 5:46

    Hel­lo Bill, thanks for shar­ing your expe­ri­ence. May stroke sur­vivors get bet­ter after peri­ods of reha­bil­i­ta­tion, both phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive. Your neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist and speech ther­a­pist should be able to work with you and help improve, as much as pos­si­ble, areas such as infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing and work­ing memory.

    Kind regards

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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