Brain training apps (computer or mobile phone applications and games), known as "brain games," promise to improve your memory and attention skills, ability to make good decisions, and even vision and hearing. There are numerous products on the market (Brain HQ, Lumosity, Cogmed, Project: EVO, etc.) and the claims of these companies are tantalizing: Who wouldn't want to get smarter by playing a game on their phone? While many of these products originate from scientific research that has shown positive effect in some individuals, the effectiveness of these apps are highly controversial. 

To find out more about brain games, the clinical evidence, potential side effects, cost, and, of course, our bottom line on brain training apps, sign in and see the full answer >>

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August 1, 2018

My brain training comment may seem more like a question. I hope that this is an okay use of this forum. Brain training is a fascinating subject. In years past (including university and postgraduate training) I have been recognized for having excellent memory and associative skills. However, I have been a frustrated low performer when it comes to sight reading music for guitar, my chosen instrument. Now that I am retired and have more free time, I would welcome any general or specific comments about brain training methods that might help me more efficiently improve my musical skills.

August 1, 2018

As my 95 year old Gran would say, "Reading is food for the brain"

August 1, 2018

The product used in the ACTIVE study isn't mentioned, but in case anyone is interested, they used the computerized training program developed by Posit Science, which is available online at

This is the only computerized cognitive training software that has met all 5 criteria put forth by the Institute of Medicine for the evaluation of the evidence-based validity and efficacy of such programs. The criteria include the following questions that should be examined by consumers and evaluation researchers:

• Has the product demonstrated transfer of training to other laboratory tasks that measure the same cognitive construct as the training task (e.g., if some aspect of memory is being targeted in the product, is transfer demonstrated to other memory tasks)?
• Has the product demonstrated transfer of training to relevant real-world tasks?
• Has the product performance been evaluated using an active control group whose members have the same expectations of cognitive benefits as do members of the experimental group?
• How long are the trained skills retained?
• Have the purported benefits of the training product been replicated by research groups other than those selling the product?

You can visit to read more about Posit Science's process of evaluating their product and how they established that each of these criteria were met. This website also includes an exhaustive list of all of the literature that has been published that uses their software.

In the mean time, here are a few very informative, recently published scientific articles that discuss the efficacy of Posit Science's software in relation to that of other products (e.g., Cogmed, Lumosity):

Sigmundsdottir, L., Longley, W. A., & Tate, R. L. (2016). Computerised cognitive training in acquired brain injury: A systematic review of outcomes using the International Classification of Functioning (ICF). Neuropsychological rehabilitation, 26(5-6), 673-741.

Simons, D. J., Boot, W. R., Charness, N., Gathercole, S. E., Chabris, C. F., Hambrick, D. Z., & Stine-Morrow, E. A. (2016). Do “brain-training” programs work?. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 17(3), 103-186.

Strenziok, M., Parasuraman, R., Clarke, E., Cisler, D. S., Thompson, J. C., & Greenwood, P. M. (2014). Neurocognitive enhancement in older adults: comparison of three cognitive training tasks to test a hypothesis of training transfer in brain connectivity. Neuroimage, 85, 1027-1039.

August 1, 2018

Lumosity works. Proof? Experience it yourself: Take any one of their games, and play it daily for 2 months. You are guaranteed to play that particular game better.

So....even if the only improvement your brain experienced was the ability to play that (and only that) game better, that is STILL an improvement in SOMETHING in there between your ears, and thus worth it. All gain is valuable, all improvement is a positive.
August 1, 2018

Yes, as we discuss, you are likely to get better at the game, and there is no downside other than time and money spent. The bigger question is whether the improvement carries over to real life situations.

February 25, 2018

It seems likely from the literature that acquiring complex new skills that do not draw primarily on existing skills is most effective in forming new neural connections and preserving brain plasticity. One such skill, suitable for healthy individuals in their 60's, 70's or beyond, is learning to fly. (I was 60 when I got my license.) The skill set is complex (cognitive, psychomotor, and affective) and highly interactive. It requires concentration and the ability to monitor, anticipate change in, and act on several factors at the same time. There are new licensing options that are friendly to older adults and some options, such as flying clubs, are affordable for many. It is not for everyone but flying is a great deal of highly engaging fun and a great way to see meet new people and see new sights.

February 25, 2018

I’m 62 and I have the free version of Lumosity. The games are fun and challenging. Do they help keep my brain sharp? Who knows. Probably no more than the crossword puzzles I do, knitting, childcare, gardening or playing Angry Birds Transformers. But playing computer games is also a fun way to stay current and relevant with the kiddos and young people in my life. Who in turn repay me by helping keep me young.

February 21, 2018

The question is very broad and the answer: is some types of activities work, for some things, sometimes!
As a mental health scientist, the ads for "brain training" promise too much! But, we do know that using our brain, especially in novel ways is good. Our brain continues to learn and can improve over the course of our lifetime, absent disease. What is usually not emphasized is that things like walking and regular exercise keep the blood flowing and is excellent for our brain. This is different than sitting in front of a computer and doing games! Same thing with activities such as puzzles, crossword puzzles, art, languages, and music! Many of these activities require that we use our brains AND different parts of our bodies. They usually require hand-eye coordination. All of these activities require ENGAGEMENT from multiple parts of our brain and our body!
So, does "brain training" work? Sort of, partly, but there is no research that says it works better than the human activities we can choose to do every day, at No Cost!
So, be active, find things that you find interesting and like to do, engage with other people and MOVE!

February 21, 2018

I think the largest issue with such "brain enhancement" activities is that some, perhaps most, participants will use their available time on such and not realize that even greater gains/ reduction in losses be achieved by regular walking, swimming and, yes, also keeping the mind active by travelling, doing crosswords, sudoku, playing bridge or chess, learning a foreign language etc.
February 21, 2018

Those are all wonderful activities, Carl. Interestingly, as noted in our Answer above, one of the brain training apps was compared in a study to doing a crossword puzzle. Apparently the app was better on some measures that the crossword puzzle, but that doesn't mean doing puzzles is not worthwhile or won't result in benefits not measured in the study.

February 23, 2018

I couldn't agree more with Carole 16481. At 89 I abhor those games. Give me everyday living problems. I work at a college two-days a week, a read in two languages and pursue many of the activities that occupied me at earlier stage of my life: photography, design and art. Reading journals that stretch vocabulary and different areas of knowledge are not only as effective as puzzles and games but more stimulating. The activity that most helps me stay alert is driving in New York traffic. The trip to work is 36 miles both ways. Think of the myriad decisions I have to process to get my destination and back and do it safely. I recommend it to those of my age rather seating home before a computer playing games.

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