Does Lumosity work? We’ve all seen the commercials for Lumosity. They declare that joining the website will increase your memory and improve your overall mental performance. These kinds of interactive websites claim we can easily attain success while feeling like we’re not working at all. And, for a small fee, we get a custom routine tailored to the needs of our unique brain. So is all the hype true? Will playing games on your computer, tablet or smartphone really improve your cognitive ability, or will it just make you better at playing games?
Well, it depends on how you look at it. It is well-known that living in an enriched environment has profound effects on cognitive ability. This is just common sense. Everyone knows activities like reading, doing puzzles, engaging in intellectual conversations etc. keep you sharp. For a long time it was believed that neuroplasticity, the ability of our brains to change and adapt, greatly decreases with age. This is now known to be false. Our brains retain this remarkable ability throughout our lives.
Experience will always induce learning. That’s not to say it doesn’t slow down, but cognitive decline can be countered with increased effort. So, if you feel like your memory, attention, or executive function is declining, simply increase your engagement in the world around you. That will surely help regain what you’ve lost. But, the question remains, does Lumosity work to accomplish this?
Simply put, it’s definitely better than no engagement at all. Sitting idle is a self-perpetuating and nasty detriment to cognitive ability. Neuroplasticity works both ways. If you’re stimulating your brain by learning and staying mentally active, your brain adapts to being productive. However, if you’re a couch potato rarely making your brain function on any higher level, your cognitive abilities will decline.
Why pay for mental stimulation over the internet? Is it more productive to play games than say, reading a book?
It really depends on you and your level of motivation. Similar to the added motivational benefit of purchasing a gym membership or hiring a personal trainer to stay physically healthy, paying for a mental training program can also be motivational. Lumosity and other “brain game” websites put you on a personalized training schedule. They come up with and organize the training regimen. Plus, they track your progress in real time.
Does Lumosity work on the principles of neuroscience as they claim?
An interdepartmental study conducted at Tohoku University evaluated the effect which playing the game Brain Age (Nintendo 3DS) had on global cognitive status, executive functions, attention and processing speed. This was compared to a control group who played Tetris instead. There were 32 participants with a mean age of 68. Results showed that after four weeks, executive functioning and processing speed improved in the group playing Brain Age as compared to those playing Tetris. Differences in attention and global cognitive status, however, were not significant between the two groups.
Another study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used six types of “brain plasticity-based training” provided via home computer. The study lasted 8-10 weeks and involved 182 participants, age 60 to 87. Although this work was preliminary, the study demonstrated that a brain plasticity-based training program can significantly improve memory as well as overall cognitive function in mature adults with age related cognitive decline.
It seems that the claims made by brain training websites like Lumosity do hold some weight. That, however, does not mean Lumosity is better than playing sudoku, doing the daily crossword, learning a new language, reading a good book or any number of mentally stimulating tasks. If you’re still asking yourself “Does Lumosity work,” here’s what it comes down to: mental stimulation is key. If you don’t get a good dose of this on a daily basis, Lumosity will likely benefit you. You can also get this through other activities, but Lumosity really does make it easy. So, if you’re looking for something new and stimulating for your brain, try out some brain games. It’s no replacement for conventional learning and cognitive stimulation, but it can be a fun way to pass the time while keeping yourself sharp.
2. Mahncke H. W., Connor B. B., Appelman J., Ahsanuddin O. N., Hardy J. L., Wood R. A., Merzenich M. M. (2006). Memory enhancement in healthy older adults using a brain plasticity-based training program: A randomized, controlled study. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 103, 12523–12528.
Photo credit to Remco Wighman (http://www.flickr.com/photos/remcowighman/8411549238/)