Brain training involves spending time regularly completing computer exercises designed to work and improve all kinds of cognitive abilities, like memory, verbal reasoning, concentration, spatial awareness, and processing speed. The programs might have you matching pictures from memory, unscrambling word puzzles, trying to identify images quickly flashed on the screen, or linking visual symbols to their auditory counterparts.
Brain training takes advantage of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change its form and function based on repeated input throughout your life. Your brain is changing every minute of every day as a result of what you do, feel, and think anyway. Brain training exercises attempt to harness and direct this process. Just as you workout to exercise your body, brain training claims to exercise your memory, attention, and other cognitive skills to keep them in top shape.
Does Brain Training Work?
Like anything relatively new, the effectiveness of brain training is still the subject of much debate in the scientific community, and you can find plenty of information for and against it and some opinions which are on the fence.
The article Can Brain Training Work by SharpBrains outlines five specific conditions which must be met for brain training to work and explains:
Evidence is growing that brain training can work…Why do we still often hear that brain training does not work? Because of the different understandings of what ‘brain training’ and ‘work’ mean. A machine to train abdominal muscles probably won’t ‘work’ if what we measure is blood pressure.
One study conducted in 2008 at The University Of Michigan found that:
… four weeks or so of training will produce a noticeable difference in fluid intelligence. We were able not only to show this in young adults, but also in young children. We’ve also shown that the longer you train short term memory, the more improvement you get in IQ.
Note that study confirmed an increase in fluid intelligence. It may be that brain training claims made by companies with a financial interest are too generalized and overstated. It could be that particular brain training exercises work to improve very specific skills. An article, Does Brain Training Work?, in Psychology Today states:
There is little empirical reason to believe that a training that improves one skill (e.g., inhibitory control) would also improve others (e.g., working memory or intelligence), that the same brain regions are involved, or even that the same model of change applies.
On the con side, Brain Test Britain conducted a study with 13,000 participants in 2009 and determined:
The Brain Test Britain study found no evidence that the benefits of playing brain training games transfer to other brain skills.
There Is No Debate In My Mind
Brain training unequivocally worked for me. Intensive computer brain training yielded dramatic improvements and was crucial to my recovering from a serious brain injury. (Read more here.) My results may have been atypical and so significant because my brain had so much room for improvement, but I am firmly convinced that brain training is worthwhile for any brain.
Some argue that performing brain training exercises sets up false hopes and that the hours spent training could be used more to your brain’s benefit by say exercising, taking classes to learn a new language or play a musical instrument, meditating, or even getting some extra sleep. All of these are extremely good for your brain, and I would encourage you to incorporate a wide variety of brain beneficial activities into your life.
I say that just like everything else in life, balance is important here. You can’t eat a bunch of junk food, never break a sweat, live a high-stress life getting way too little sleep and expect a few hours of brain training every week to save you. But I do believe spending some time doing online brain training can be part of a brain-healthy lifestyle – just like the other good-for-you activities.
Train Your Brain For Free
In recent years, brain training has become a multimillion-dollar business with many companies flooding the market and developing a wide range of offerings for you give your brain a regular workout for a nominal fee. However, there are still places you can train your brain for free: