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127 scientists challenge the purported brain training “consensus” released by the Stanford Center for Longevity

Open-Letter

Sci­en­tists to Stan­ford: Research Shows Brain Exer­cis­es Can Work (Press release):

A group of 127 sci­en­tists sent an “open let­ter” to the Stan­ford Cen­ter for Longevi­ty, today, in reac­tion to a recent state­ment by the cen­ter that was high­ly crit­i­cal of the emerg­ing sci­ence of brain train­ing and dero­gat­ed the effi­ca­cy of all brain exercises…The let­ter is signed by 127 doc­tors and sci­en­tists, many of whom are lumi­nar­ies in the field of neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty – the dis­ci­pline that exam­ines the brain’s abil­i­ty to change. Sig­na­to­ries include mem­bers of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences, mem­bers of the Insti­tute of Med­i­cine, depart­ment chairs and direc­tors of pro­grams and insti­tutes, as well as sci­en­tists who are founders of neu­ro­science com­pa­nies. The sig­na­to­ries include sci­en­tists from 18 coun­tries around the world.

Over the last four decades, I’ve worked with scores of sci­en­tists and thou­sands of gen­er­ous vol­un­teer par­tic­i­pants in sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies of cog­ni­tive train­ing,” Dr. Ball said. “Those stud­ies show that prop­er­ly designed brain exer­cis­es can dri­ve sig­nif­i­cant cog­ni­tive and qual­i­ty of life ben­e­fits.”

Dr. George Rebok of Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty has also co-authored many papers in the field and was on a team that con­duct­ed, and pub­lished, a sys­tem­at­ic review of com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tions.

In doing that review, my col­leagues and I spent many months ana­lyz­ing data from more than 150 pub­li­ca­tions and con­clud­ed that cog­ni­tive train­ing can improve cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties,” Dr. Rebok said. “I declined to sign the longevi­ty cen­ter state­ment because it was not sup­port­ed by that type of rig­or­ous sci­en­tif­ic review, and signed the open let­ter response, because it is impor­tant to accu­rate­ly state what the research shows.“

 

The Open Let­ter (opens new page; excerpt below):

To the Stan­ford Cen­ter on Longevi­ty:

On Octo­ber 20, 2014, you released a state­ment pre­sent­ed as “A Con­sen­sus on the Brain Train­ing Indus­try from the Sci­en­tif­ic Com­mu­ni­ty.” We agree strong­ly with parts of your state­ment, agree sub­stan­tial­ly with oth­er parts, but are com­pelled to sign this let­ter to express our con­cern that many read­ers of your state­ment might wrong­ly con­clude that there is no evi­dence that any cog­ni­tive train­ing reg­i­men can improve cog­ni­tive func­tion. Giv­en our sig­nif­i­cant reser­va­tions with the state­ment, we strong­ly dis­agree with your asser­tion that it is a “con­sen­sus” from the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty.

We can­not agree with the part of your state­ment that says “there is no com­pelling sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence” that brain exer­cis­es “offer con­sumers a sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly ground­ed avenue to reduce or reverse cog­ni­tive decline.” We fear that most read­ers would take this to mean there is lit­tle or no peer-reviewed evi­dence that cer­tain brain exer­cis­es have been shown to dri­ve cog­ni­tive improve­ments. There is, in fact, a large and grow­ing body of such evi­dence. That evi­dence now includes dozens of ran­dom­ized, con­trolled tri­als pub­lished in peer-reviewed jour­nals that doc­u­ment spe­cif­ic ben­e­fits of defined types of cog­ni­tive train­ing. Many of these stud­ies show improve­ments that encom­pass a broad array of cog­ni­tive and every­day activ­i­ties, show gains that per­sist for a rea­son­able amount of time, doc­u­ment pos­i­tive changes in real-life indices of cog­ni­tive health, and employ con­trol strate­gies designed to account for “place­bo” effects. While we can debate strengths and lim­i­ta­tions of each study, it is a seri­ous error of omis­sion to ignore such stud­ies in a con­sen­sus review­ing the state of this sci­ence.”

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