Print 25 comment(s) - last by supergarr.. on Feb 2 at 5:53 AM

Study discredits the effectiveness of Brain Age

Researchers at the University of Rennes, Brittany, have concluded that Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training or Brain Age is no more effective at improving your cognitive abilities than playing Scrabble or completing Sudoku puzzles.

Brain Age is a puzzle video game published and developed by Nintendo for the Nintendo DS portable video game console. It has been marketed as a tool for improving your mental sharpness and is an example of a game that appealed to a very wide audience that reached beyond traditional gamers.

Alain Lieury professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Rennes stated, “The Nintendo DS is a technological jewel. As a game it’s fine, but it would be charlatanism to claim that it is a scientific test.”

To back their claims with evidence the research team experimented on 67 10-year-old children. The first two groups undertook a seven-week memory course using the Nintendo DS; the third group completed puzzles using just a pencil and paper; the fourth group did no extra work outside of their regular school curriculum.

Logic, memory, and mathematical tests carried out before and after the study were compared and children who were trained on the Nintendo DS failed to show any significant improvements in memory tests.

According to the Telegraph, Nintendo defended its edutainment titles such as Brain Age, stating that it had never claimed the games were scientifically proven to improve cognitive function. In the words of a Nintendo spokes person, “The challenges in Brain Training and More Brain Training are inspired by the exercises developed by respected neurologist Dr Kawashima, who believes that the brain needs to be exercised to help stay fit in the same way that our bodies need exercise to stay in shape,”.
Brain Age has been a sales success that has been able to appeal to more than traditional gamers. Developing games that appeal to a wider audience has brought Nintendo incredible success both with the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii. Although this study may discredit the effectiveness of Brain Age, future Brain Age titles will most likely still see success thanks to Nintendo's clever marketing. 

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10 year olds?
By austinag on 1/28/2009 10:38:47 AM , Rating: 5
The study was done on 10 year olds, but I thought the games intended audience was older people who wanted to lower their "brain age".

RE: 10 year olds?
By JazzMang on 1/28/2009 10:40:46 AM , Rating: 5
haha yea slight oversight by the research party.

RE: 10 year olds?
By Chadder007 on 1/28/2009 11:05:33 AM , Rating: 5
Considering that 10 year olds are still going to school and are being subject to brain exercises most of the day anyway....
I would like to see a study done on adults in later age ranges.

RE: 10 year olds?
By KashGarinn on 1/29/2009 10:02:26 AM , Rating: 3
Exactly, children who actively go to school everyday are constantly using their brain.

Most 65+ aren't. If they really would have liked to see whether training the brain has an effect, they should have gotten retired people at oldsfolkshomes to participate, people who are more likely to not being stimulated everyday with brain training.

RE: 10 year olds?
By Dreifort on 1/28/2009 10:44:24 AM , Rating: 1
Isn't brain age just electronic flash cards?

RE: 10 year olds?
By jjunos on 1/28/2009 12:15:22 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, all the articles I read talked about how brain age was being used as an effective way to avoid dementia in older people.

As well, there's also the effort in getting kid's to do anything remotely educational...the DS simplifies that.

RE: 10 year olds?
By supergarr on 2/2/2009 5:53:47 AM , Rating: 2
You read my mind

By Bender 123 on 1/28/2009 10:35:42 AM , Rating: 5
How did it compare to the control group that did nothing? I would assume the paper and pencil group would be the same, as the title is just a delivery platform for the same puzzles done on paper.

Thats the piece missing...Its not the comparison between how you do it, but between those that do it or dont that matters.

RE: So...?
By AnnihilatorX on 1/28/2009 10:37:35 AM , Rating: 2
I also think the article is incomplete.
Is there a link to the original research?

Logic, memory, and mathematical tests carried out before and after the study were compared and children who were trained on the Nintendo DS failed to show any significant improvements in memory tests.

What about mathematical tests?

RE: So...?
By oab on 1/28/2009 10:42:00 AM , Rating: 5
From experience in grade 4 I was singled out for needing to improve my basic arithmetic skills (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, in terms of speed), and after a couple months of daily doing "the mad minute" (solve as many basic arithmetic problems in one minutes time), I was #2 in my class.

Practise helps significantly, especially with math. I have no doubt that the math part worked. Your quote mentions testing in logic, memory and mathematics, but only says that no improvements were found in memory. I guess that means that it improved logic and math abilities as the tests measured them.

RE: So...?
By ciparis on 1/28/2009 3:35:41 PM , Rating: 2
agreed -- the group's purported finding sounds like grandstanding when such an obvious question is left unanswered; my assumption was that the DS was found to be just as effective as other puzzles (and that both would be more effective than doing nothing), which the article text seems to support.

Oh Please.
By clovell on 1/28/2009 2:00:43 PM , Rating: 5
I'm not sure who's to blame here - the researchers, or the reporter, but this story is ridiculous.

Let's start with the title 'Brain Age: Not as Good for Your Brain as Claimed. Nintendo has made no such claim. This is a strawman. If you want to argue semantics, it seems that the game's goal is to promote the maintenance of mental acuity, not to improve it.

Now let's start with the methodology. I've some experience with clinical research because I'm a clinical statistician. Aside from testing a strawmanned claim, the reserachers chose a strawmanned sample. Furthermore, they split the sample into four unblinded groups. Whether they were randomized or not, we don't know.

Now, the power of any statistical test is going to be low (67/4=~17 subjects per group), and the chance of reporting / observation bias is going to be high, especially considering that the research question the data addresses seems biased from the start.

Furthermore, the reported conclusions only state that no significant improvement was observed in the DS group in the memory tests. What about the math tests? The logic tests?

And the final note Although this study may discredit the effectiveness of Brain Age, future Brain Age titles will most likely still see success thanks to Nintendo's clever marketing.

So, either the reporter or the researchers have cherry-picked and skewed the results. Come on guys - this is a tech site. How hard is it to do more than a Fox News-style-cursory-gotcha-headline-article? How hard is it to report the entire story (logic and math tests - are they significant?).

Either the article or the research leaves a lot to be desired. In the end, the article and the research doesn't seem to mean anything.

RE: Oh Please.
By CoolDuckie on 1/28/2009 5:00:17 PM , Rating: 2
I'm doing somewhat similar kinds of resarch for a living and 17 subjects pr. groups gives you enough statistical power to detect group-difference given a low-moderate effect size in a simple paired comparison. Low effect sizes are not that interesting in practical settings anyway.

Further, of course you get better at maths by practising maths, thus it is not very interesting to test whether 10-year olds get better at maths by practising maths. The interesting effect would be one of generalization to other types of math tasks. The sample was not biased against the software, as 10-year old have far more trainable brains than 70+ year olds, and I would expect larger effects in kids than in older people.

Read up on the research by Timothy Salthouse and others who have investigated the effects of computer-based mental exercise. I does not work as well as many believed it would. An interesting exeption is the dual n-back task that was used in a recent study on improving fluid intelligence. That was promising.


RE: Oh Please.
By clovell on 1/28/2009 7:00:12 PM , Rating: 2
Interesting. However, 17 subjects per group would still not be enough to get 80% power unless the variance was unusually low. I'm not familiar with the endpoints used to assess memory, but in my line of work this is on par with a Phase I study.

If math improvement is so uninteresting, then why was it tested? Why not spend the funding on enrolling more subjects? And even then - how about the logic scores?

The bias isn't directly reflected in the sample, but moreso in the research question that the reported conclusions seem to address.

Interesting information, though.

RE: Oh Please.
By toolguy on 1/29/2009 2:32:48 PM , Rating: 2
Comments like this are the reason I like this site. You hit it right on the money. I really liked the referance to the Fox News-style. I swear if I believed every bit of research they talked about I would be afraid to eat anything, in fear of becoming obess or getting cancer.
I think most (not all) people that do surveys and sociological research are complete idiots. Not all of them, but the majority of what "research" becomes public is laughable.

No kidding
By oab on 1/28/2009 10:38:11 AM , Rating: 3
All the adverts I'd seen showed old(er) people with heads photoshopped smaller to show that the brain shrinks with age, and that the exercises/games included in Brain Age helped keep the brain active by performing basic things like reading, arithmetic and short-term memory work. Implying that it would help keep your cognitive functions longer than someone who does not play it.

Other research ahs shown that stimulating the brain daily helps decrease the chances/progression/onset of alzheimers. Including activities such as crosswords, sudoku puzzles, and other logic games, which Brain Age includes.

RE: No kidding
By othercents on 1/28/2009 10:43:13 AM , Rating: 2
Exactly, their study group was way too young. They should have used people over 25. Studies have shown that at 25 your body quits growing and starts to deteriorate. I would love to see a study of 60 year old people all retired that normally just watch TV and sleep all day try to play brain age and see if they get better.


RE: No kidding
By CoolDuckie on 1/28/2009 4:49:50 PM , Rating: 2
Unfortunately, the studies you probably refer to are a) epidemiological, correlational studies that mixes cause and effect (solving puzzles at 80 does not necessarily keep you brain fit, it is rather a sign of brain fitness), or b) studies that studies effect of practise using tests that are similar to the practise tasks. As another poster here said, we all get better at what we practise, but that does not mean that skill will generalize to other situations than that of the practise tasks.

I am a neuropsychologist with a Phd in an old-age psychology related field, and I can tell you that research in this field has been a huge disappointment. Should I give anybody sound advise on keeping the brain fit, I'd say: 1) Do hard aerobic exercise for at least 30 minute a day, ) stay in a slight calorie deficit, and 3) live a generally stimulating life.


Any Game is good for the brain
By Esquire on 1/28/2009 11:18:30 AM , Rating: 4
My 65 year old father, is playing tiger woods, Dark Sector (finished it) and COD 5... on PS3 instead of watching TV... He is learning Hand Eye coordination and problem solving in these games. He has mastered Tiger Woods to the point where my brother and I both long-time gamers cannot touch him! It is so embarrassing.

I feel the fact that learning this and practicing is strengthening his brain it just makes sense that it would. And he is having a great time crushing us.

By omnicronx on 1/28/2009 12:50:17 PM , Rating: 2
have concluded that Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training or Brain Age is no more effective at improving your cognitive abilities than playing Scrabble or completing Sudoku puzzles.
Who ever said it was more effective than these games? Furthermore,playing Sudoku and Scrabble has been proven to improve your cognitive abilities, so doesn't this study actually reveal the opposite of what they are claiming?

P.S This is on of the worst cases of misused resources I have ever heard of.

RE: and?
By bodar on 1/28/2009 4:36:05 PM , Rating: 2
Completely agree. What the blogger and researchers fail to realize is that, while Brain Age is not more effective than traditional puzzles, it is all about the delivery system, not just "marketing" as it was so ignorantly put. It is fun, portable, and interactive in ways that pencil-and-paper just cannot compete with -- timing, scoring, auto-generated content, etc.

Good job there, DT. Worthless sensationalism is not why I come here.

Who Cares
By afkrotch on 1/28/2009 10:37:54 AM , Rating: 3
Really who cares. So long as ppl still enjoy the games, that's fine with me.

I like games like these, but only in small amounts. They get boring really quick.

You know...
By MrBlastman on 1/28/2009 10:43:52 AM , Rating: 3
I think a good old fashioned game of StarCrack (err, StarCraft) would do you just as much good, if not far MORE good maintaining mental awareness - assuming you push it and try to win versus competent opponents, say in a 2v2 or 3v3 setting, than Brain Age.

Or how about a game of Chess - well, three games of Chess simultaneously. You don't need a fancy DS to work out your brain and achieve the kind of purported benefit the producer claims you will receive (that the study disputes).

Wow... Really?
By amanojaku on 1/28/2009 8:42:50 PM , Rating: 2
I would've been surprised if the article said Brain Age had any effect AT ALL. Other than improving the ability to play Brain Age. /rolls eyes

brain age
By frozentundra123456 on 1/29/2009 8:35:52 AM , Rating: 2
It seems to me that the test needs to be done over a long term of months or years to see if training such as this helps slow the decline in ability to learn with age.It needs to be done in older subjects too.

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