Sheila Raghavendran

Online brain games claim to improve brain performance

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Image by The Chronicle‘s Layout and Design Editor Gabrielle Stichweh.

It’s all in your head.

Online brain training sites, such as Lumosity.com, claim to help people “improve your brain performance and live a better life”. But according to Psychologist Intern Martin Dobson, these sites only benefit a select group of people.

“For typical young adults, for typical adults, and for typical children it doesn’t do a ton, because those brain functions are already sort of working and they’re working pretty well,” Dobson said.

Dobson said that while brain training is not helpful to everyone, people with problems in certain areas can see an enhancement.

“With folks that struggle with that to begin with, it can definitely be beneficial,” Dobson said. “For folks that are already starting with a pretty full plate–that already have a lot of these abilities, it doesn’t do a whole lot for them.”

Junior Harrison Walsh said that the creative part of his brain is strengthened by working with a Rubik’s Cube.

“I think it helps me find new ways to think,” Walsh said. “…Because in school you’re taught…what to think and not how to think.”

According to Dobson, most of the successful studies on brain training pertain to narrow subjects known as working memory–like short-term memory and attention span. A sharp working memory helps people pay attention and multi-task, he said.

AP Psychology teacher Angie Johnston said that keeping the brain active is the key to a healthy life.

“Whether [you are] reading a book or looking at Sudoku puzzles…I think it’s definitely good on a daily basis to make sure something is going on in there,” Johnston said.

Lumosity emphasizes brain stimulation, and Johnston said the concept is similar to the perks of physical exercise.

“It’s almost like if you compare it to other parts of your body where if you go on a run every day your body is going to train well and be more active,” Johnston said. “…And I think that’s probably what they’re trying to say with this is [that] your brain works in the same way: you have to keep it active to keep it at its best.”

For people who have limited executive functions–the system that manages cognitive processes such as thinking and understanding–brain training can assist them by compensating in other areas, Dobson said.

In an interview with The New York Times, Massachusetts Institute of Technology neurologist Earl K. Miller said brain training can transform an older person’s tired brain.

“[Research] shows you can take older people who aren’t functioning well and make them cognitively younger through this training,” Miller said.

Cogmed, an online program tended to improving attention problems, helps kids with attention deficits and ADHD, according to Dobson.

As Cogmed activities reinforce the attention span, Walsh said the Rubik’s Cube helps his organization skills.

“It helps me arrange my thoughts a little bit better and know what I need to do and how to get things done,” Walsh said.

According to Dobson, brain training does not necessarily improve health. In a British study of about 130 people, Dobson said that some people received brain training while others received a different task that gave them a break from work. After six months, the control group had a better well-being than the tested group because they were able to take a break from their days, he said.

Johnston said she takes a break from her day by starting with exercise.

“I get up every morning, I work out, come to school and I feel like it helps me focus,” Johnston said. “I’m more ready for my day.”

Brain training is tailored to task-specific activities, Dobson said.

“If you’re trying to study for an SAT but you’re doing [brain training] instead, it’s probably not the best thing to do,” Dobson said. “But if you’re having problems paying attention in class, this could definitely help. So in the end you want to engage in activities that will help you get where you want to get to.”

Author: sheilaraghavendran

I agree with Ellen, let's be kind to one another.

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