People ask us all the time, "How is cognitive training different than Lumosity? " Perhaps the real question is, “What's the difference between playing brain games and doing cognitive training?”
Like our bodies, our brains have the capacity to grow and improve. Cognitive training is the ability to improve learning capacity through targeted computer based mental exercises.
There are gold standard studies documenting that working memory and attention can be improved through training, however; much of the scientific community is still struggling to understand what constitutes cognitive training, never mind how to measure benefits, especially over time.
The New York Times recently published an article about Lumosity being sued for false advertising. Apparently, they don’t have reliable scientific data to document their claims of benefits for real-world performance effecting age-related decline and other health conditions.
During the past four years we have trained more than 250 people using scientifically proven computer based cognitive training programs, coupled with one-on-one coaching.
- Most of these people have demonstrated significant and lasting improvements in core abilities such as working memory and attention, along with transference to, higher order skills such as reading fluency, comprehension and organization.
- The computer exercises that we use target specific skills and abilities and the exercises increase in difficulty as the users abilities improve.
- Our clients typically train 30 to 40 minutes daily, five days a week, for six weeks, or more.
- Nobody benefits by just going through the motions. Changing your brain requires hard work, dedication and a consistent approach.
- We hold clients accountable, monitor results and help them to execute proven techniques and strategies that facilitate growth.
- Almost all of the people who we work with complete a full rigorous 6 week training regimen.
- While we can never promise specific benefits, most people tell us that things get easier for them based on improved attention and memory.
- In our school based programs, we document improvements through pre-and post-testing of memory, reading fluency and rapid naming/recall. We also use rating scales that assess attention and hyperactivity/impulsivity.
Large long-term studies that test many of the benefits of cognitive training are yet to be done, however; there are still many voices that are content to deride the possibilities of this promising new field.
A meta-analysis including 23 studies was published twice in the New Yorker in recent years. It concluded that the benefits of cognitive training are questionable. A closer look at the analysis revealed training regimens of as little as 6 minutes daily, or for as little as 4 or 5 days. Hardly the kind of stress needed to rewire one’s brain.
Do you think a 6 minute daily workout at the gym would be effective?
Another study by Owens titled, Putting Brain Training to the Test, concluded that “no evidence was found for transfer effects to untrained tasks…” This assertion was based on an online study done in 2010, in which 52,000 people registered and just over 11,000 were deemed to have fully participated. People were asked to train 10 minutes a day, 3 times a week, for 6 weeks but were allowed to train more or less frequently.
Full participation was defined as having completed the pre and post assessments and training for at least two 10 minute sessions, hardly the type of effort that would yield changes. Of course the study found there was no transfer to untrained tasks as there was nothing to transfer. No serious work was required. A genuine cognitive training program would involve many hours of consistent training on computers with exercises that increase in difficulty, taxing a broad range of cognitive skills and abilities.
In other articles:
Cognitive improvements from training were attributed to "practice effect", rather than transference or neurological changes. Studies have already been done using brain imaging that specifically document increased activities in areas of the brain associated with working memory, post training.
If you question the extent to which any benefit is long lasting, think of the 30-year-old who has never exercised yet wants to prepare to run a marathon.
1) They seek professional advice.
2) They use specific training guidelines, increasing distances over time, to the point where they are able to complete the full 26 miles.
Is this training affect, or has that person actually made significant changes and improvements in their fundamental physical abilities? We would argue that it's both, yet the benefits of the training will remain long after the race is run.
If this person gave up running and took up rowing, they would be a better rower because of the foundational work that they did in training for the marathon. We would argue that improved memory, attention and auditory skills are transferrable core skills that support improvements in many aspects of life, academic and otherwise.
Age is also a factor
There is a difference between training a teenage brain that is still developing and naturally improving, and training an adult brain that is in natural decline. Ultimately, it’s about enhancing natural and lasting growth in younger people and reversing natural decline in adults, if even temporarily. The good news is that training does not have to be a one shot 6 week deal.
80+ percent of people who we work with benefit from the training experience, and for some people it is truly life altering. One of our colleagues said it best,
“If this were a drug, it would be a blockbuster, and to think, no side effects.”
The big, long term studies documenting benefits will be done. We tell people over and over, it’s not that you train, it’s how you train. Motivation, strategy and technique, and above all consistency are the keys to success. Improved cognitive skills are available to just about everyone who is willing to put in the effort and do the work.
Ted Backes Director of Cognitive Training
Caryl Frankenberger, Ed. M.