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Brain-Training Games May Not Improve Overall Intelligence

Brain-training games seem to temporarily improve specific tasks, but claims that they can improve overall brain function have yet to be proved. Christie Nicholson reports

Brain-training games claim that testing memory, attention and other forms of cognition will improve one’s overall intelligence and brain function.

And it’s probable that such games do improve performance on a specific task. But it’s unlikely that there’s a general improvement. That’s according to a study in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Sixty men and women played a computer game that tested their ability to withhold an action. The subjects saw a “go” signal—an arrow pointing either left or right—and they had to press a key, as quickly as possible, that corresponded to the signal’s direction. But 25 percent of the time a beep sounded just after the arrow appeared—which meant to not press the key.

Compared with a control group that never got the inhibitory beep, the game players’ exhibited heightened levels of activity in regions of the brain that control inhibitory action and emotion. But researchers found no change in other areas, for instance those that support working memory.

The researchers write that while brain-training games might temporarily improve a specific task, in this case inhibitory control, they may not lead to a general improvement in overall brain function. But they may still be fun.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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