Some brain training games suggest they’ll help raise your IQ, but the evidence for benefits in daily life are far from solid.
The premise behind "cognitive training" is that the brain is like a muscle — use it or lose it. Just as working up a sweat flexes and trains the body, the mental exercise of brain games is said to improve learning and memory.
"My cognitive function feels sharper," said Ari Rabinovitch, a fan of brain games in Toronto. He figures if he’s going to spend time playing games, why not make it a challenge?
Tanya Mitchell, vice-president of research and development at LearningRx in Colorado Springs, Colo., said about 75 per cent of the firm's clients are struggling school-aged children and the rest are adults who have had a brain injury, stroke, cancer or difficulty in their career and want to regain lost skills.
"Researchers understand that the brain is plastic," said Mitchell. "A lot of times, they don’t understand how to improve the skill. It’s sort of the Wild West of the industry right now."
Richard Haier is a professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, where he uses brain imaging to study learning, memory, and intelligence.
"There's no evidence at all that any of these brain training games — or any brain training at all — will actually increase your intelligence," Haier said.
There are studies that suggest games can increase the brain’s processing speed by about 100 milliseconds.
"I’m not sure that this increase in speed of mental processes generalizes to any other task, other than the tasks you've been trained on," Haier cautioned. "The evidence that it generalizes to any aspect of your daily life is really unproven."
Most of the results and testimonials haven’t been independently confirmed in large, high-quality experiments in a lab.
Whether brain training might slow down the normal effects of aging on the brain is more of an open question, Haier said.
Rabinovitch said that despite the lack of evidence, he’ll keep playing.
"If it really doesn't train my brain to be any smarter or sharper, I'm having fun with it."