Study: Brain Exercises Don’t Improve Cognition

brain train

You’ve probably heard it before: the brain is a muscle that can be strengthened. It’s an assumption that has spawned a multimillion-dollar computer game industry of electronic brain-teasers and memory games. But in the largest study of such brain games to date, a team of British researchers has found that healthy adults who undertake computer-based “brain-training” do not improve their mental fitness in any significant way.

The study, published online Tuesday by the journal Nature, tracked 11,430 participants through a six-week online study. The participants were divided into three groups: the first group undertook basic reasoning, planning and problem-solving activities (such as choosing the “odd one out” of a group of four objects); the second completed more complex exercises of memory, attention, math and visual-spatial processing, which were designed to mimic popular “brain-training” computer games and programs; and the control group was asked to use the Internet to research answers to trivia questions.

All participants were given a battery of unrelated “benchmark” cognitive-assessment tests before and after the six-week program. These tests, designed to measure overall mental fitness, were adapted from reasoning and memory tests that are commonly used to gauge brain function in patients with brain injury or dementia. All three study groups showed marginal — and identical — improvement on these benchmark exams.

Time: Study: Brain Exercises Don’t Improve Cognition

(Thanks Bill)

I’ve read a couple articles now on this study, but I don’t know if this study included the n-back test, which has previously been found to actually work.


  1. Scott Rassbach

    April 21, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Perhaps it doesn’t improve cognition (who could tell over 6 weeks?) but perhaps it prevents deterioration. I’ve seen lots of anecdotal evidence about folks who do reading, crosswords, memory puzzles, etc having better end of life cognition (no alzheimer’s or dementia) than those who don’t do those things.

    I wonder if anyone has done studies on that?

  2. There have been studies. I don’t have anything handy, but here’s the jist: no specific activity (like crosswords or soduku) seems to help, but taking up new activities, learning new things does.

    But the thing that helps the most in preventing cognitive decline, dementia, etc. is, interestingly, socializing.

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