Do “Brain-Training” Programs Work? 10/2016

Do “Brain-Training” Programs Work?
Psychological Science in the Public Interest October 2016 17: 103-186
Daniel J. Simons, … Elizabeth A. L. Stine-Morrow

Based on this examination, we find extensive evidence that brain-training interventions improve performance on the trained tasks, less evidence that such interventions improve performance on closely related tasks, and little evidence that training enhances performance on distantly related tasks or that training improves everyday cognitive performance.
We also find that many of the published intervention studies had major shortcomings in design or analysis that preclude definitive conclusions about the efficacy of training, and that none of the cited studies conformed to all of the best practices we identify as essential to drawing clear conclusions about the benefits of brain training for everyday activities.
We conclude with detailed recommendations for scientists, funding agencies, and policymakers that, if adopted, would lead to better evidence regarding the efficacy of brain-training interventions.


  • brain training
  • cognitive training
  • learning
  • transfer
  • cognitive
  • skill


journalistic version:


Project Evo

‘Play This Video Game And Call Me In The Morning’
August 17, 2015

The brain networks that control multitasking overlap with networks that control working memory and attention span. So some scientists believe that by playing this game — Project Evo — you can improve a range of cognitive skills and, by extension, relieve a range of symptoms associated with cognitive disorders.

“We’ve been through eight or nine completed clinical trials, in all cognitive disorders: ADHD, autism, depression,” says Matt Omernick, executive creative director at Akili, the Northern California startup that’s developing the game.


Will Doctors Soon Be Prescribing Video Games For Mental Health?
August 10, 2015

July 31, 2012

April 17, 2011

Cognitive Training (Gazzaley, 2014)

Cognitive Training
Adam Gazzaley, MD
Director, Neuroscience Imaging Center, UCSF
IOM. Second Public Health Dimensions of Cognitive Aging Workshop. June 9, 2014

Develop an effective approach to enhance and maintain cognition throughout the lifespan.

1. Attention: selecting information
2. Perception: interpreting information
3. Emotion: Extracting salience of information
4. Memory: retaining and retrieving information
5. Decision Making: reasoning based on information
6. Motor/Language Output: actions based on information

Video game training enhances cognitive control in older adults
J. A. Anguera, … A. Gazzaley
three-dimensional video game (NeuroRacer)

journalistic version
Multitasking After 60: Video Game Boosts Focus, Mental Agility
September 2013

Brain Training Games Won’t Pump Up IQs, Study Says
April 20, 2010

You don’t need cognitive stimulation

John Zeisel on ‘hopeful aging’
Jul 7, 2013

Creative means discovery, creative means learning, creative means invention, creative means comprehension.
We’re always in search of understanding.

You can’t learn, be innovative, discover, be creative with banality.
Playing bingo isn’t going to cut it. It’s not interesting enough.
Looking at a Matisse and saying, “What is this painting about?” — that’s interesting enough.

Sudoku, crossword puzzles — mental exercise is not what I’m talking about.
It doesn’t do it. The term that’s used for those is ‘cognitive stimulation.’
You don’t need cognitive stimulation. You have to have meaning in your life. If it’s meaningful, it will stimulate you.

Is there anything else we can do to help our brains age well?
The basic three are sleep, diet and exercise.

The second level of intervention is stress reduction and creative endeavors: the arts, learning. The learning can be anything. It can be based on aptitudes and skills you already have, or you can also learn new skills. All kinds of learning are as essential as stress reduction.

The biggest misconception is that people with dementia can’t learn.
There are four learning systems in the brain.
One is called episodic learning: there’s an event in my life and I remember what happened.
The second is semantic learning, like learning a word out of context.
Then there’s emotional learning, which revolves around relating to others.
Then the final one is procedural learning, which we learn by repetition, by doing something. It’s how you learn to ride a bike or sign your signature.

People with dementia lose some ability with the first two, but they do not lose their abilities for emotional and procedural learning.

To Keep Your Brain Nimble As You Age, Stretch It


Games to Sharpen the Brain

Akili Interactive Labs Inc. of Boston

Games to Sharpen the Brain
July 31, 2012
Start-Ups Seek FDA Approval for Videogames as Treatment for ADHD

Akili Interactive Labs Inc. of Boston, formed by start-up-creating firm PureTech Ventures, and San Francisco company Brain Plasticity Inc. are seeking Food and Drug Administration approval for a videogame treatment they hope clinicians will turn to before prescribing medicines for ADHD.

The disorder, whose symptoms include difficulty paying attention and remaining focused, affects 9% of adolescents and 4.1% of adults in the U.S., according to the American Psychiatric Association.

The companies are building on research suggesting that action videogames can sharpen players’ ability to concentrate, and may have other medical or health benefits.
University of Toronto scientists said in April that action videogame play causes improvement in “visual attention,” which is needed to drive a car or track changes on a computer display.
In 2010, University of Rochester and University of Minnesota researchers found that action videogames can train people to make the right decisions faster.

The FDA has never approved a videogame as a medical therapy.

Akili co-founder Dr. Eddie Martucci

the work of  Daphne Bavelier  of the University of Rochester and  Adam Gazzaley  of the University of California, San Francisco

Dr. Bavelier had found that players of fast-paced, action videogames outperform non-gamers in their visual-attention skills, or the ability to concentrate visually on an object while ignoring irrelevant information. Visual attention is important for things like driving or picking a friend’s face out of a crowd.

With research increasingly suggesting that neurological benefits are a byproduct of recreational, action-game play, PureTech teamed up with Dr. Bavelier and Dr. Gazzaley to design videogames that stimulate parts of the brain in ways that could be medically useful. With Dr. Bavelier’s and Dr. Gazzaley’s guidance, and advice from videogame experts like Noah Falstein, formerly of videogame publisher LucasArts Entertainment Co., PureTech launched Akili in December.

neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to rewire itself in response to learning or new experiences.

Brain Plasticity has launched clinical tests of computer-based exercises to treat schizophrenia and ADHD, said Dr. Henry Mahncke, chief operating officer of Brain Plasticity and chief executive of San Francisco-based Posit Science Corp.

A study of 3,034 children and adolescents in Singapore, published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture, found videogame play to be associated with greater attention problems.

Noting Dr. Bavelier’s and Dr. Green’s research, the authors speculate that electronic media might improve visual attention but impair the ability to sustain attention on a hard or boring task.
The latter type is what teachers need from students, according to co-author Douglas A. Gentile, a developmental psychologist at Iowa State University.

“The biggest problem is that we use the word ‘attention’ to mean many different things,” Dr. Gentile wrote in an email. “Could games be designed to improve the kinds of attention that teachers need? I expect so, but given that games usually train the other types, it becomes a great design challenge.”



Brain: Memory and Multitasking (TED talk)

TEDxSanJoseCA – Brain: Memory and Multitasking
Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD
April 17, 2011

13:00 Impact of distraction on long-term memory (3 scenarios: eyes shut, looking at gray screen or busy visual picture)

14:23 how exquisite sensitive  our memory is, even to the normal environmental stimulation that we can not escape

15:29 prefrontal cortex

15:56 In your visual cortex there is only room for 6 objects or even less at a time, depending on how complex they are
[c.f.: ]

17:23: Multitasking: Costs: – Time delays in switching – Impact on task performance (you don’t do 2 things as well as you do 1 thing)

17:50 Why do we multitask (some sources are anecdotal): – Flexibility – Fresh perspective – Increased variety – Enables us to use downtime productively – More fun

19:10 So, what can be done? – Change our behavior – Change our brains 20:05 Change our behavior: Establish rules – Important tasks demanding high quality should be given singular attention (e.g., quit mail, turn off phone, shut the door). – Boring, easier, less critical tasks are better candidates for multitasking

21:00 Change our brain: Neuroracer


How to Be Good at Multitasking



COGNITION. The brain’s decline.

COGNITION. The brain’s decline.
Treating cognitive problems common in elderly people requires a deeper understanding of how a healthy brain ages.
Nature, Vol 492, 6 December 2012: S4-5

normal cognitive ageing

about healthy brain ageing. There are only a few things that researchers can agree on. First, after the age of 60, nearly everyone will start to experience some decline in cognitive skills, most noticeably in memory, and this decline will be accompanied by a change in brain structure. Second, aerobic exercise slows or delays this mental slippage.

“Nearly a third of old people who are cognitively normal have enough amyloid and tau in their brains to meet the criteria for Alzheimer’s disease.”

There are fewer receptors and other proteins too, but the most dramatic fall is in the amount of dopamine (see ‘Ages of dopamine’) — a neurotransmitter whose many functions include movement control, general motivation and learning.
From early adulthood onwards, dopamine levels drop by about 10% per decade, making it a powerful marker for brain ageing.

The brain maintenance theory is consistent with evidence that aerobic exercise can slow cognitive decline by stimulating production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which helps the growth of new blood vessels, not only in the muscles being exercised but in the brain as well.

But it’s a rare octogenarian who can take a long run or play a heart-pounding game of squash, so scientists hope that studies such as COBRA will lead to alternative strategies.
One idea is to develop drugs that improve particular types of neurotransmission, but this might have limited value against a background of brain tissue shrinkage.

Another strategy could be to use computer-based cognitive training programmes designed to sharpen mental processing speed or working memory.
Several studies have shown that people of all ages can improve their performance on specific computer tasks in which they train.
Neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley at UCSF is so confident in the potential of this approach that he is developing commercial software for use at home. But even he admits there is no evidence that the improvements seen in computer-based tasks can help with life-related activities — such as helping you remember why you went to the fridge.

Brain Games are Bogus

Secrets To Longevity: It’s Not All About Broccoli
March 24, 2011

So, she concludes, “some degree of worrying actually is good.” And, in fact, adds Friedman, “the prudent, persistent, planful people — both in childhood … and then in young adulthood we measured that — that was the strongest individual difference, or personality predictor, of long life.”

And it’s not just about risk aversion. The study found that conscientious people developed better social relationships and accomplished more at work. Think all that responsibility sounds boring? Not so, says Martin. “Because of those qualities, they tended to get nice opportunities in life, and so they went on to live some of the most exciting and interesting lives of anyone in the study.”


Ruline: I’m doing all right so far

Secrets to the World’s Longest Marriage
The Atlantic. July 2018

91-year-old cop has no plans to retire