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BBC brain training study apparently retracts previous overgeneralized claim that “brain training doesn’t work”

bbcbraintrainingOnline brain train­ing ‘helps old­er adults with every­day tasks’ (BBC):

Near­ly 7,000 peo­ple aged 50 and over signed up for the six-month exper­i­ment, launched by BBC TV’s Bang Goes The Theory…Some of the vol­un­teers were encour­aged to play online brain train­ing games for 10 min­utes at a time, as often as they wished. The oth­ers — the con­trol group — were asked to do sim­ple inter­net search­es Read the rest of this entry »

To reach your cognitive potential across the whole lifespan, augment healthy lifestyle with brain training

BrainFitnessTrajectoryCan You Get Smarter? (The New York Times):

A few years back, a joint study by BBC and Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty neu­ro­sci­en­tists put brain train­ing to the test…There was, how­ev­er a glim­mer of hope for sub­jects age 60 and above…Unlike the younger par­tic­i­pants, old­er sub­jects showed a sig­nif­i­cant improve­ment in ver­bal rea­son­ing Read the rest of this entry »

Can brain training work? Yes, if it meets these 5 conditions

brain exerciseIn a mod­ern soci­ety we are con­front­ed with a wide range of increas­ing­ly abstract and inter­con­nect­ed prob­lems. Suc­cess­ful­ly deal­ing with such an envi­ron­ment requires a high­ly fit brain, capa­ble of adapt­ing to new sit­u­a­tions and chal­lenges through­out life. Con­se­quent­ly, we expect cross-train­ing the brain to soon become as main­stream as cross-train­ing the body is today, going beyond unstruc­tured men­tal activ­i­ty and Read the rest of this entry »

Another victim of the BBC/Nature “brain training” experiment

Have you read the cov­er sto­ry of the New Sci­en­tist this week: Men­tal mus­cle: six ways to boost your brain?

The arti­cle, which includes good infor­ma­tion on brain food, the val­ue of med­i­ta­tion, etc., starts by say­ing that: “Brain train­ing doesn’t work, but there are lots of oth­er ways to give your grey mat­ter a quick boost.” Fur­ther in the arti­cle you can read “… brain train­ing soft­ware has now been con­signed to the shelf of tech­nolo­gies that failed to live up to expec­ta­tions.”

Such claims are based on the one study wide­ly pub­li­cized ear­li­er this year: the BBC “brain train­ing” exper­i­ment, pub­lished by Owen et al. (2010) in Nature.

What hap­pened to the sci­en­tif­ic rig­or asso­ci­at­ed with the New Sci­en­tist?

As expressed in one of our pre­vi­ous posts: “Once more, claims seem to go beyond the sci­ence back­ing them up … except that in this case it is the researchers, not the devel­op­ers, who are respon­si­ble.” (See BBC “Brain Train­ing” Exper­i­ment: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly).

Read our two pre­vi­ous posts to get to the heart of the BBC study and what it real­ly means. As Alvaro Fer­nan­dez and Dr. Zelin­s­ki explore the poten­tial sci­en­tif­ic flaws of the study, they both point out that there are very promis­ing pub­lished exam­ples of brain train­ing method­olo­gies that seem to work.

BBC “Brain Train­ing” Exper­i­ment: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Sci­en­tif­ic cri­tique of BBC/ Nature Brain Train­ing Exper­i­ment

Needed: funding for innovative research on slowing cognitive decline via cognitive training

I was real­ly inter­est­ed in the recent cri­tique of the BBC brain train­ing exper­i­ment by Dr. Eliz­a­beth Zelin­s­ki. I think Owens et al (2010) was a crit­i­cal piece of research which was not con­duct­ed in the right way and was focus­ing on the wrong sam­ple pop­u­la­tion.  I total­ly agree with the com­ments by Dr. Zelin­s­ki regard­ing the poten­tial for sam­ple bias and the use of some ques­tion­able cog­ni­tive mea­sures. How­ev­er, I would like to take this cri­tique fur­ther and ques­tion whether the study was val­ue for mon­ey when there are oth­er stud­ies which can­not achieve fund­ing but would, in my opin­ion, show the criticism/scepticism of the use-it-or-lose-it the­o­ry.

I think there is not enough crit­i­cism about the age of the sam­ple pop­u­la­tion used in Owens et al. (2010). We have con­clu­sive cog­ni­tive and neu­ro­log­i­cal evi­dence that cognitive/neurological plas­tic­i­ty exists in young adults. There is also ade­quate evi­dence that neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty is evi­dent in old­er adults. The crit­i­cal point which I want to make about the sam­ple pop­u­la­tion in Owens et al. study is that it did not tar­get the cor­rect sam­ple pop­u­la­tion, that is, old­er adults who are at risk of cognitive/neuronal atro­phy. It does not mat­ter if younger adults improve on brain train­ing tasks, or if skills picked up by younger adults from brain train­ing are not trans­ferred to oth­er cog­ni­tive domains, sim­ply because younger adults are good at these skills/cognitive func­tions. There­fore there is a pos­si­bil­i­ty that ceil­ing or scal­ing effects mask the true find­ings in Owens et al. (2010), as indi­cat­ed by Zelin­s­ki.

The recruit­ment of the sam­ple pop­u­la­tion is also very con­cern­ing and I do not feel that their con­trol group was appro­pri­ate. Read the rest of this entry »

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