By Clifton B. Parker
Scholars say there’s little scientific evidence that computer-based brain games do more than improve performance playing them.
The Stanford Center for Longevity joined today with the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in issuing a statement skeptical about the effectiveness of so-called “brain game” products. Signing the document were 69 scholars, including six from Stanford and cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists from around the world.
Laura Carstensen, a Stanford psychology professor and the director of the Center for Longevity, said as baby boomers enter their golden years, commercial companies are all too often promising quick fixes for cognition problems through products that are unlikely to produce broad improvements in everyday functioning.
“It is customary for advertising to highlight the benefits and overstate potential advantages of their products,” she said. “But in the case of brain games, companies also assert that the products are based on solid scientific evidence developed by cognitive scientists and neuroscientists. So we felt compelled to issue a statement directly to the public.”
One problem is that while brain games may target very specific cognitive abilities, there is very little evidence that improvements transfer to more complex skills that really matter, like thinking, problem solving and planning, according to the scholars.
While it is true that the human mind is malleable throughout a lifetime, improvement on a single task like playing computer-based brain games does not imply a general, all-around and deeper improvement in cognition beyond performing better on just a particular game.
“Often, the cited research is only tangentially related to the scientific claims of the company, and to the games they sell,” said Carstensen, the Fairleigh S. Dickinson, Jr. Professor in Public Policy.
Agreeing with this view were the experts who signed the Stanford-Planck consensus statement, which reads in part:
“We object to the claim that brain games offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline when there is no compelling scientific evidence to date that they do. The promise of a magic bullet detracts from the best evidence to date, which is that cognitive health in old age reflects the long-term effects of healthy, engaged lifestyles.”
Scientific evidence does not support the brain game claims, Stanford scholars say