Meta-research on brain training games: don’t get your hopes up too high

This blogpost in The New Yorker is a must-read on brain training programs and their effectiveness with a special focus on CogMed. The reason for the article is a new meta-research published by Melby-Lervåg and Hulme. In this paper they compared twenty-three investigations of memory training by teams around the world. The conclusion of their meta-analysis? The games may deliver  improvements in the narrow task being trained, but the often claimed transfers to broader skills like the ability to read or do arithmetic, or to other measures of intelligence, well, they don’t deliver. When you train yourself with those games, you just get better at… playing those games.

In the blogpost you also get the replies of some of the researchers of companies involved (e.g.  two responses by CogMed).

Abstract of the research that triggered the article in The New Yorker:

It has been suggested that working memory training programs are effective both as treatments for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other cognitive disorders in children and as a tool to improve cognitive ability and scholastic attainment in typically developing children and adults. However, effects across studies appear to be variable, and a systematic meta-analytic review was undertaken. To be included in the review, studies had to be randomized controlled trials or quasi-experiments without randomization, have a treatment, and have either a treated group or an untreated control group. Twenty-three studies with 30 group comparisons met the criteria for inclusion. The studies included involved clinical samples and samples of typically developing children and adults. Meta-analyses indicated that the programs produced reliable short-term improvements in working memory skills. For verbal working memory, these near-transfer effects were not sustained at follow-up, whereas for visuospatial working memory, limited evidence suggested that such effects might be maintained. More importantly, there was no convincing evidence of the generalization of working memory training to other skills (nonverbal and verbal ability, inhibitory processes in attention, word decoding, and arithmetic). The authors conclude that memory training programs appear to produce short-term, specific training effects that do not generalize. Possible limitations of the review (including age differences in the samples and the variety of different clinical conditions included) are noted. However, current findings cast doubt on both the clinical relevance of working memory training programs and their utility as methods of enhancing cognitive functioning in typically developing children and healthy adults.

3 thoughts on “Meta-research on brain training games: don’t get your hopes up too high

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.