The only brain-training method that works

by Brett Henebery23 Aug 2017
In July, a landmark study examining brain-training games found that they have no more effect on healthy brains than standard video games.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, involved 128 young adults who were tested for mental performance after playing either Luminosity brain-training games or regular video games for 10 weeks.

According to the results, there was no evidence that the specialised brain-training games led to any improvements in decision-making, sustained attention or memory.

However, a group of Australian scientists recently undertook a study to put this to the test by looking at which brain training programs are scientifically proven to work.
Of the 18 different computerised brain training programs marketed to healthy older adults that were studied, 11 had no peer reviewed published evidence of their efficacy and of the seven that did, only two of those had multiple studies, including at least one study of high quality – BrainHQ and Cognifit.

And of those, just one had multiple high-quality studies: Dr Henry Mahncke’s BrainHQ program.

That study, along with other similar ones, shows that most brain training only make you better at the exercises themselves, and don’t carry those gains over to your real-world concentration, productivity, or mental acuity.

But it’s not all bad news.

Fortunately, science shows that some brain training programs do work.

As the Australian study showed, Mahncke’s BrainHQ and competitor Cognifit actually do have a real benefit.

Because both are based on brain training that is focused on improving processing speed–the speed and accuracy with which the brain processes information.

Dr Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science, told Fast Company that this type of training focuses on the visual system:

“You see an image in the centre of your vision–for example, either a car or a truck – and at the same time, you see another image way off in your peripheral vision,” Mahncke explained.

“The images are only on the screen for a brief period of time – well under a second. You then have to say whether you saw the car or the truck in the centre of your vision.”

Mahncke continues: “You then have to show where you saw the image in your peripheral vision. This challenges the speed and the accuracy of your visual system.

“As you get faster and more accurate, the speed increases and the peripheral vision task gets more demanding–pushing your brain further.”

He said that as your visual system is continually challenged by these specific tests, your brain will adapt through a process known as neuroplasticity.

“At its core purpose, the brain wants to resolve things,” Mahncke said.

“It is constantly moving from the particular to the big picture and back again. As the brain works to put the big picture together it goes through neuroplastic changes in order to do so.”

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