Update (04/20/10): after reading the full BBC study in Nature, I wrote the article titled BBC “Brain Training” Experiment: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly, saying that “you probably saw the hundreds of media articles titled “brain training doesn’t work”, based on a BBC 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.” You can keep reading full updated article Here.
Below is what I originally wrote before the paper itself was available.
The paper is still embargoed, so we cannot comment on it, but what I can do is to share fragments of my email to a BBC reporter six months ago, discussing impressions on what they had announced as the ultimate test of whether “brain training” works.
Again, these were purely my impressions based on limited public information. Once we can comment on the published paper we’ll be able to provide a more informed perspective.
Here go some of my thoughts based on my external perception of your test:
- I agree with many of the premises for the test
- But “Does brain training really work” is a highly misleading frame: the obvious answer is, yes, it works as a category. If not, do you mean people can’t learn? meditate? go through cognitive therapy? cognitive retraining? increase working memory and other brain functions? All these are established beyond doubt through dozens of well-controlled studies where the intervention effect a) goes beyond placebo, and b) remains there once training is over. The 2009 report I sent you includes 10 Research Executive Briefs by leading scientists who reference published papers in high-quality journals. None evaluates Nintendo — but should they be ignored, as a group?
- Now, the key questions are, “what specific brain training are we talking about”, “work for what?” and “work for whom?”. That’s where we could help educate consumers separate hope from hype.
- …Right now you are inventing your own “brain game”, and the only thing you will test is whether that specific “brain game” you have develop “works” or not (not clear what outcome measures you have). I wouldn’t dare to manufacture my own car now from scratch and claim, based on the results, that “cars” work or don’t.
- I couldn’t agree more with “brain training that is good for one person might not be good for you”, since one of “brain training” properties (both strength and weakness) is its highly targeted nature. The implication? we need better assessments to pinpoint bottlenecks and direct appropriate intervention. consumers need better education and information to know what is a waste of time and money and what may be worthy. Yet, your test seems to fully ignore this, and test whether the same thing is good for everyone…you may be throwing out the baby with the water…”
(Will link to paper once published). Related articles: