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Scientists claim popular brain training games do not make users any smarter

21st April 2010

More than 11,000 people used the games for six weeks as part of a nationwide experiment for a BBC television programme. The findings, published in the respected journal Nature, show that on a range of tests, the volunteers did no better than a control group who had spent a similar amount of time simply surfing the internet.

Dr Adrian Owen, assistant director of Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, who led the study, said: “The results are clear.

“Statistically, there are no significant differences between the improvements seen in participants who played our brain training games, and those who just went on the internet for the same length of time.”

Scans taken of some of the volunteers also show that the training had no effect on the make-up of the brain.

Dr Owen added: “The brain trainers got better at the things that they were doing, but the holy grail of brain training is that it has some genuine effect on mental ability or intelligence and that we showed was that was categorically not the case.”

While most of the volunteers completed around 25 sessions over the six weeks, some did more than 200 and still saw no effect from the training, he added.

Despite the short space of time over which the experiment was conducted, Dr Owen insisted that if there had been any effect it would have been uncovered by the study.

However, experts said that it was still open to question whether the games helped to maintain mental skills as people aged, reducing the decline often associated with getting older.

The findings show that the games did not enhance ‘brain power’ – that is memory, concentration, planning skills or the ability to solve problems.

‘Brain training’ is a multi-million industry, and more than 100 million Nintendo brain training games, advertised by Nicole Kidman, have been sold across the world. Millions more keep their brain active on a daily basis through puzzles and crosswords.

But researchers say that, until now, there has been too little hard evidence on whether the games actually work.

The findings of the experiment will be shown on a special programme of Bang Goes The Theory on BBC One tonight presented by Liz Bonnin, Dallas Campbell, Jem Stansfield and Dr Yan Wong.

Clive Ballard, director of Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This evidence could change the way we look at brain training games and shows staying active by taking a walk for example is a better use of our time."

However, he added: “The next question is whether brain training can help maintain your brain as you get older.”

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said: “This suggests that ‘brain training’ does not improve people’s cognitive ability.

“More research will tell us if these games have any effect on cognition as we age.”

A spokesman for Nintendo said: "Nintendo does not make any claims that Brain Training or More Brain Training are scientifically proven to improve cognitive function."

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