Thursday, December 16, 2010

Brain games don't make you smarter

People playing computer games to train their brains might as well be playing Super Mario, new research implies.

In a six-week study, experts found people who played online games designed to perk up their cognitive skills didn’t get any smarter.

Researchers recruited participants from viewers of the BBC’s science show “Bang Goes the Theory”. More than 8,600 people aged 18 to 60 were asked to play online brain games designed by the researchers to improve their memory, reasoning and other skills for at least 10 minutes a day, three times a week.

They were compared to more than 2,700 people who didn’t play any brain games, but spent a similar amount of time surfing the internet and answering general knowledge questions. All participants were given a sort of IQ test before and after the experiment.

Researchers said the people who did the brain training didn’t do any better on the test after six weeks than people who had simply been on the internet. On some sections of the test, the people who surfed the internet scored higher than those playing the games.

The study was paid for by the BBC and published online on Tuesday by the journal Nature. “If you’re (playing these games) because they’re fun, that’s absolutely fine,” said Adrian Owen, assistant director of the Cognition and Brain Sciences unit at Britain’s Medical Research Council, the study’s lead author. “But if you’re expecting (these games) to improve your IQ, our data suggests this isn’t the case,” he said.

“Learning is very specific,” said Art Kramer, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois. “Unless the component you are trained in actually exists in the real world, any transfer will be minimal.”

Instead of playing brain games, Kramer said people would be better off getting some exercise. He said physical activity can spark new connections between neurons and produce new brain cells.