Today, on top of the other school work and assignments I needed to do, I fed fish, I took food orders at a fast food restaurant and I helped a poor, confused frog make it safely to his lily-pad destination. Sounds like a busy day until you realize that most of those tasks were games played on an app on my phone. “Lumosity” is a brain-training application designed by neuroscientists that promises to boost your memory and, in turn, your intelligence. Here’s the catch: You have to pay $14.95 a month to play. Even so, close to 60 million people are “Lumosity” members today and the company has grossed close to $24 million in revenue over the past year.
Based on information gathered from the Human Cognition Project, “Lumosity” game developers focused on neuroplasticity, the concept that the brain works like a muscle and can adapt to changes and has the ability to accept new challenges. Original research on the efficacy of “Lumosity’s” brain games supported its ability to impact a large and diverse population. Children, healthy adults and cancer survivors all showed similarly positive changes in their cognition.
Later research, however, has added complexities to the efficacy argument. A systematic review in 2012 by Alexandra Kueider and associates demonstrated that there was a positive effect on memory, but not an effect that was significantly different than typical pen and paper tasks. Rather, the increases in performance were based on memory of the task. People got better at “taking food orders” because they had expectations about what would happen. The saying “practice makes perfect” reigns true here. The repetition of a similar, seemingly-simple task increases scores and, thus, perceived memory and intelligence abilities. Similar results have been found for other brain-training game applications, too.
Virtually directing a frog from lily pad to lily pad is no more beneficial to your memory and cognitive processes than sitting down with a book or focusing on a crossword. Sure, it is more fun, but is it really worth paying close to $15 a month for? Not so much. Save that money for something more exciting.
I am not saying “Lumosity” should be completely disregarded, especially since Ithaca has been named the “smartest city in America” based on it. It is great that more games and applications are being made that will be beneficial to people’s intelligence as compared to mindlessly tossing birds into buildings. But perhaps what should be pushed is good old-fashioned reading and writing. The world is already technological enough.