Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The results: Brain training games don't make us smarter

    Lab UK's groundbreaking scientific study, published in leading science journal Nature, has found no evidence that playing brain training games can meaningfully boost your 'brain power'.

  The Brain Test Britain experiment, launched on Lab UK in September  2009, was designed to find out if playing brain training games really does have benefits that transfer to other brain skills, like memory, planning or problem-solving.
    We asked the public to help us by brain training three times a week for a minimum of six weeks - and you responded in your thousands.
    Of the 67,000 people who signed up to take part in Brain Test Britain, more than 13,000 completed the initial six-week brain training period, making this by far the largest ever study of computer-based brain training.

    The scientists who designed the experiment - Dr Adrian Owen of the Medical Research Council, University of Cambridge, and Professor Clive Ballard, director of research for the Alzheimer’s Society – have now completed their analysis of the data.

What did we learn?

    The results are truly amazing. The Brain Test Britain study found no evidence that the benefits of playing brain training games transfer to other brain skills.Dr Adrian Owen said: "The result is crystal clear. Brain training is only as good as spending six weeks using the internet. There is no meaningful difference."

This will no doubt come as a surprise to the millions of people worldwide who do some form of brain training every day in the belief that regularly ‘exercising’ your brain with special tests and puzzles makes you better at everyday thinking tasks.

   The Brain Test Britain experiment was inspired by research, published in 2009, suggesting the scientific evidence for brain training was lacking. It found that most of the studies used to support the claims made by commercially available brain trainers were not carried out to accepted scientific standards.By contrast, the Brain Test Britain experiment was a full clinical trial - a type of scientific study used to evaluate the effectiveness of ideas that have a medical application. 

   This allowed our scientists to investigate brain training as a means of treating or preventing degenerative disorders of the brain, such as dementia.The results of Lab UK's Brain Test Britain experiment have now been published in Nature, one of the world's leading science journals. (To find out more about publication and peer review, read our article:What is peer review?)

So what are the benefits of brain training?

     Brain Test Britain found that people who play brain training games do get better at those specific brain training games. But this really only proves the old adage of ‘practice makes perfect’. There is no evidence that this transfers to the brain skills measured by our benchmarking tests.     

     The Brain Test Britain experiment is now closed. This includes the longer 12 month study for participants aged 60 and over. The results for this part of the experiment are being analysed now, and will be published on the BBC Lab UK site when the findings are ready.

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