Brain Games Aren't All They Claim
By Ross Reelachart
The only “brain game” Lumosity will be playing now is figuring out how to pay the $2 million fine that has been levied against them by the Federal Trade Commission.
Lumos Labs, the company behind Lumosity, will not only need to pay the $2 million for fraudulent claims but must also notify all of their subscribers of the FTC action as well as provide a simple way to cancel auto-renewal and future billing.
While Lumosity may be the company fined, they are not the only one selling the idea that a person’s memory and cognitive ability can be enhanced by regularly using an app or program suite. Cogmed and Elevate are other apps that purport to train the brain or boost memory similarly to how regular exercise keeps the body physically fit. Like a gym, these apps are paid services. Unlike a gym, their results are founded on uncertain evidence and marketing jargon.
Although this is one of the first times action has been taken against services like Lumosity, the effectiveness of “brain games” has been questionable for some time in the scientific community. In 2014, a letter of consensus was signed by almost 70 researchers and released by the Stanford Center on Longevity in California and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.
The signatories reached the consensus that there was little evidence to support the effectiveness of “brain games” and the research cited by these companies is tangential at best. Although players may improve in their ability to play the games themselves, the games do not provide any broader, more practical improvement that could be useful in the real world.
Like most science that turns into mass market products, there is a hint of truth beneath the exaggerations and dubious claims. Though “brain games” are mostly a way to make money off of trumped-up scientific claims, there is serious study being conducted in the field of brain training. But without the evidence to back up claims, researchers will remain skeptical. Most encourage physical exercise to enhance brain activity, which has some scientific backing.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, the writer erroneously associated CogniFit with Lumosity.