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Cognitive improvements through games?

Over the past few weeks, I have been inundated by ads from a company called Lumosity (http://www.lumosity.com). Now, maybe I’ve noticed these ads because I’m part of the target market, but their goal of improving cognition across the world population really intrigued me, so I did what all scientists do, a little research.

Turns out, Lumosity may be on to something, with several studies showing the ability of their specialized computer “games” to improve cognitive test scores. For example, in a study of 1,200 students (ages 8-15) those who trained with Lumosity improved their cognitive scores about twice as much as the control group, who did not train at all. The change in cognitive scores was also correlated to the number of training hours, with scores improving more as the training hours increased.  Another interesting study looked at the effect of Lumosity on breast cancer survivors, who often experience cognitive deficits known as “chemofog.” Following Lumosity training, the cancer survivors showed improvements in executive functions, including cognitive flexibility, verbal fluency and processing speed. A third study focused on the impact of cognitive training on emotional regulation, and found that 30 days of cognitive training improved self-esteem scores three months after the training was completed as compared to the control group, who played computer-based arcade games.

A question still in my mind is whether the training provided on the website simply prepares people for cognitive assessment, or does it really change people’s cognition throughout their daily lives? It appears that at least one group has attempted to answer this question, finding that while training may improve scores on specific cognitive tests, it does not appear to improve general cognitive function. Specifically, participants improved their scores for cognitive tasks for which they specifically trained, but this improvement did not transfer to novel, untrained cognitive tasks (Owen, et al. Nature, 2010, 465, 775-8).

As the debate goes on, I personally am curious as to whether there are any significant biochemical changes in the brains of people who show improvements in cognitive scores after using Lumosity. Even if Lumosity doesn’t provide population-wide improvements in cognition, I think it is worthwhile to consider easily-accessible, non-invasive methods that may provide cognitive improvements instead of constantly focusing on developing new drugs targeted at various patient populations.


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Reader Comments (3)

It looks really nice and fun! Now I want more info

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