Computer-based cognitive-training software -popularly known as brain games- claim a growing share of the marketplace. The promotion of these products reassures and entices a worried public.
Spend enough time playing "brain-training" games, and you'll get pretty good at games. But you won't necessarily get better at anything else. That's the conclusion of an extensive review published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest this week. A team of psychologists scoured the scientific literature for studies held up by brain-training proponents as evidence that the technique works - and found the research wanting.
"It's disappointing that the evidence isn't stronger," says Daniel Simons, an author of the article and a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Brain-training programmes have been controversial for years. Starting in the mid-2000s, a number of experiments suggested that astonishing cognitive improvements could be induced by simple training-game interventions.
One of the most high-profile studies, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2008, found that about four weeks of brain training dramatically improved young adults' ability to solve problems they had never encountered before. The big claim was that the technique could produce "vertical transfer" of cognitive skills - in other words, playing games would boost the brain's ability to do more sophisticated tasks.