“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 more…] about BBC brain training study apparently retracts previous overgeneralized claim that “brain training doesn’t work”
BBC brain training
Can 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 more…] about To reach your cognitive potential across the whole lifespan, augment healthy lifestyle with brain training
In 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 more…] about Can brain training work? Yes, if it meets these 5 conditions
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.
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 more…] about Needed: funding for innovative research on slowing cognitive decline via cognitive training
You may already have read the hundreds of media articles today titled “brain training doesn’t work” and similar, based on the BBC “Brain Test Britain” experiment.
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.
Let’s recap what we learned today.
The Good Science
The study showed that putting together a variety of brain games in one website and asking people who happen to show up to play around for a grand total of 3–4 hours over 6 weeks (10 minutes 3 times a week for 6 weeks) didn’t result in meaningful improvements in cognitive functioning. This is useful information for consumers to know, because in fact there are websites and companies making claims based on similar approaches without supporting evidence. And this is precisely the reason SharpBrains exists, to help both consumers (through our book) and organizations (through our report) to make informed decisions. The paper only included people under 60, which is surprising, but, still, this is useful information to know.
A TIME article summarizes the lack of transfer well:
“But the improvement had nothing to do with the interim brain-training, says study co-author Jessica Grahn of the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge. Grahn says the results confirm what she and other neuroscientists have long suspected: people who practice a certain mental task — for instance, remembering a series of numbers in sequence, a popular brain-teaser used by many video games — improve dramatically on that task, but the improvement does not carry over to cognitive function in general.”
The Bad Science
The study, which was not a gold standard clinical trial, contained obvious flaws both in methodology and in interpretation, as some neuroscientists have started to point out. Back to the TIME article:
“Klingberg (note: Torkel Klingberg is a cognitive neuroscientist who has published multiple scientific studies on the benefits of brain training, and founded a company on the basis of that published work)…criticizes the design of the study and points to two factors that may have skewed the results.
On average the study volunteers completed 24 training sessions, each about 10 minutes long — for a total of three hours spent on different tasks over six weeks. “The amount of training was low,” says Klingberg. “Ours and others’ research suggests that 8 to 12 hours of training on one specific test is needed to get a [general improvement in cognition].”