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