Brain Training Apps

Published: 7.23.2017
Level 5   |   Time: 5:28
Accent: Canadian
Source: Quirks and Quarks (7.14.2017)

TOEFL: A clip about how effective brain training apps are at making you smarter.


You can download the file [ HERE ].


triangle Directions

  1. REVIEW the vocabulary.
  2. LISTEN to the audio above.
  3. ANSWER the questions.
  4. CHECK your answers (Show Answers)

triangle Vocabulary

  • the old refrain [exp] - the common expression
  • train [v] - practice
  • engaging [v] - using
  • tax [v] - put pressure on
  • cognitive skills [n] - brain ability
  • a suite [n] - a set or group of things
  • executive function [n] - brain skills involving mental control and self-regulation
  • in the face of [exp] - during
  • screen out [phv] - remove unnecessary information
  • irrelevant [adj] - not important
  • go back and forth [exp] - alternate between two things
  • zero in on [phv] - focus on
  • rigorously [adv] - in an extremely careful way
  • assessments [n] - tests
  • distractors [n] - things that distract you
  • efficacy [n] - effectiveness
  • fMRI [n] - functional magnetic resonance imaging - brain scanning machine
  • provocative [adj] - interesting
  • ultimately [adv] - in the end
  • a real bummer [exp] - bad news

[n] - noun,  [v] - verb,  [phv] - phrasal verb,  [adj] - adjective,  [adv] - adverb,  [exp] - expression

triangle Comprehension Questions

  1. What do parents often say about playing video games?
    They are a fun.
    They are expensive.
    They are bad for your brain.

  2. What is Lumosity?
    An app that is supposed to make people smarter
    A company that measures brain activity
    A type of Pokemon

  3. What did Dr. Cable want to find out?
    Whether any video games made people smarter
    Whether brain training apps were effective
    Whether Lumosity was effective

  4. What effects do the brain training apps promise?
    They will make people smarter.
    They will improve people's memory.
    They will make people better at playing video games.

  5. What types of activities do the brain training apps focus on?
    Remembering things while being distracted
    Reading many different things at the same time
    Being able to multi-task
    Improving hand-eye coordination
    Being able to focus in on specific information

  6. What is an example of one of these activities?
    Being able to make a phone call and play a game at the same time
    Remembering 10 different phone numbers at the same time
    Remembering a phone number while being talked to

  7. What is the Stroop Task?
    Remembering the color of words
    Saying the color a word is written in
    Writing words in numerous different colors

  8. How do designers want people to use these games?
    People use them instead of playing regular video games.
    People use them while they are studying or learning other things.
    People use them again and again until they improve.

  9. Who did they compare the brain training app users to?
    Regular video game users
    People who didn't play any video games
    People who read a lot

  10. How did they assess people's cognitive ability and improvement?
    They tested their working memory.
    They measured their brain activity.
    They evaluated their decision making.

  11. How did they measure brain activity?
    They asked the people many questions.
    They used an fMRI.
    They measured how long people slept.

  12. What effects did the brain training apps have?
    The same as playing regular video games
    They improved people's memory marginally.

triangle TOEFL Questions

  1. What is the discussion mainly about?
    (A) The effectiveness of brain training apps
    (B) How brain training apps work
    (C) The most recent brain training apps
    (D) The best way to improve intelligence

  2. Lumosity is an example of ____.
    (A) a popular brain training app
    (B) the most effective brain training app
    (C) a brain training app that is also fun
    (D) a company that tests brain training apps

  3. The purpose/promise of apps like Lumosity is ____.
    (A) to entertain people
    (B) to improve people's memory
    to make people smarter
    (D) to save time

  4. Which type of brain training activity does the professor NOT mention?
    (A) Memory activities
    (B) Focusing activities
    (C) Multi-tasking activities
    (D) Speed reading activities

  5. Which image is an example of a Stroop Task?
    (A) image
    (B) image
    (C) image
    (D) image

  6. The professor states the games are designed ____.
    (A) to get harder and harder as you use them
    (B) to help people who experience memory loss
    (C) to be more fun than regular video games
    (D) to improve people's intelligence through repeatedly playing the games

  7. What does the host mean when he says this?

    (A) His parents thought video games were a waste of time.
    (B) His parents thought video games made people smarter.
    (C) His parents often encouraged him to play video games.
    (D) His parents thought he used brain training apps too much.

  8. What did the professor expect to find out before he started his experiment?
    (A) He expected the brain training apps to be effective.
    (B) He expected video games to more effective than brain training apps.
    (C) He expected brain training games to be ineffective.
    (D) He expected people to enjoy the brain training apps a lot.

  9. Why did the professor test people playing regular video games?
    (A) To show that video games were also effective
    (B) To compare brain training apps to regular video games
    (C) To measure memory loss caused by playing video games
    (D) To keep people interested in the study

  10. According to the professor, what is working memory?
    (A) Being able to remember things while awake
    (B) Being able to remember information while working
    (C) Being able to remember things while being distracted
    (D) Being able to remember things while under the influence of alcohol

  11. According to the professor, why did they measure brain activity with fMRI scans?
    (A) To see if the brain training apps actually changed people's brain
    (B) To maintain the safety of the people being tested
    (C) To compare to brain scans of normal people
    (D) To measure memory loss

  12. What were the three things that they evaluated and measured in the study?
    (A) Brain activity
    (B) Decision making
    (C) Game scores
    (D) Focusing ability
    (E) Hours using the game
    (F) IQ

  13. What was the conclusion of the study?
    (A) Brain training apps are improving.
    (B) Brain training apps are very effective.
    (C) Brain training apps are marginally effective.
    (D) Brain training apps are not effective.

triangle Script

Sound familiar. If so, you've probably spends an hour or two gaming. OK probably more hours than you care to admit gaming. But hey, your Pokémon we're just going to evolve themselves, right? And for people who don't understand gamers, there's the old refrain, “If you don't stop playing those video games, it's going to rot your brain.” But that's not supposed to be a problem if you're playing one of these games.

Take a 10 minute Lumosity FIT test to challenge memory, attention and more. You'll train with games that challenge key abilities like speed and problem solving. Train four times a week and enjoy your brain training journey. Start your fit test at

Lumosity is one of many apps that suggest that by playing their games they'll make you smarter than you were before. But I mean really, is that possible? That's what Dr. Joseph Cable wanted to find out. Dr. Cable, welcome to the program.

Thanks for having me.

So what kinds of effects do these brain-training apps promise? What is supposed to happen?

The promise is that by engaging with fun video games that you can play on your phone or play online that are specifically designed to tax your cognitive skills, that this will fundamentally change the way that your brain works and lead you to think better and to be smarter and to be more intelligent more generally.

What kinds of activities do these brain training apps have you do? How do they get you smarter?

Well most of them focus on a suite of things that psychologists will call executive function. These are the kinds of things that they focus in on our ability to hold something in mind in the face of interference. So to remember a 10-digit phone number while someone else is talking to you. Or to focus in on some information and screen out irrelevant information. The kind of classic example of this that a lot of people have heard of from Psych 101 is the Stroop task, where you have to say the color of the ink that the that the word is written in rather than read the word. Or to or to multitask – to be able to go back and forth between two tasks without slowing down or having a big cost as you go back and forth. And so the games are designed to zero in on these aspects of your thinking and have you practice them over and over again in an adaptive manner so that you get better and better on the game as you go through with the hope that that would generalize to your cognitive abilities more generally.

So you were kind of hoping to prove that Lumosity works, to prove my parents wrong, that video games could make you smarter.

That was that was the initial idea. And there was enough evidence out there and enough people who were sort of interested in this idea that we thought, you know, it's exciting enough and it's important enough that it really deserves to be rigorously tested. We really should know, you know, who's right - you or your parents.

Did you compare these brain training apps to anything else?

So in our study, we had two comparison groups. The first comparison group was people who just played regular old video games that weren't designed to do anything more than be a fun way to spend five minutes. And then the second comparison group was a group of people who did nothing at all. So they just did our initial assessments, and then we waited and then they came back and did our final assessments.

Now how would you know if those games were actually effective at increasing any of your abilities.

What we did to measure whether the brain training games and/or the video games were effective at improving your cognitive skills was to give people a suite of assessments. So we assessed people's working memory, which is their ability to hold information in mind in the face of interference. We assess their ability to focus their attention on one piece of information and screen out distractors. The other two things that we were looking at to look at their efficacy: one is brain activity, which we measured with a functional MRI, and then the other thing that we looked at was decision making.

And why include fMRI data in your study? Why look at people's brains?

Well you know, the provocative idea is that these games will change your brain, that that will make you smarter, and then that will have effects on how you weigh the future and how you weigh risks in your decision making. And so in the assessments, we really wanted to be able to measure each of those three steps of the idea. And the first step is that these games change your brain.

What was it you found ultimately?

Ultimately, we found that the brain games had no effects on any of those three measures over and above practice with everyday video games.

Which is a real bummer. I was really I was optimistic that I was going to be at like Hawking levels of brilliance by the end of using these games, but I guess it's not meant to be. At least this way.


Dr. Cable, thank you so much for spending the time to chat with me today. I really appreciate it.

Thanks for having me on.

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