Brain Training Not All Its Cracked Up To Be Study Finds
Peering into the future at extended old age, the Baby Boom generation has begun to wonder how to stay mentally sharp as long as possible. There’s a growing cottage industry in brain training and a developing body of scientific research exploring whether it can make people smarter and keep them sharper into old age.
The scientific literature is filled with contradictions, with some studies arguing that programs designed to build working memory provide long-lasting memory benefits and even improve overall intelligence, while others claim brain-training programs are little more than snake oil.
A recent study by Randall Engle and Tyler Harrison of Georgia Institute of Technology concludes that training designed to build working memory capacity can improve cognitive function in that particular area, but that it does not translate to general intelligence. The study subjects were young adults, whose cognitive function was ostensibly at its peak.
“In this study, basically what they’re saying is if you train for the 100-yard dash you’ll get good at the 100-yard dash, but not at the bench press,” David Meyer, the director of the University of Michigan’s Brain, Cognition, and Action Laboratory, told Singularity Hub.
Online brain training companies “would like you to believe that, if you train on their program on the Internet, you’re going to go off and be like Einstein, whereas the Engle group is arguing that it doesn’t work that way, you don’t get that kind of far transfer. And Engle is probably right,” Meyer said.
Working memory refers to our ability to retrieve information in the short term, especially in the presence of distraction. Claims that it improves overall intelligence hinge on a correlation between working memory and what’s called “fluid intelligence.”
“Height and weight in human beings are also strongly correlated but few reasonable people would assume that height and weight are the same variable. If they were, gaining weight would make you taller and losing weight would make you shorter — those of us who gain and lose weight periodically can attest to the fact that that is not true,” Engle explained in a news release.