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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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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.

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