Another Peer Response to Brain Test Britain

Another peer response to the much-publicized Nature publication of theĀ  BBC’s Brain Test Britain research:

‘No gain from brain training’ (Nature 464, 1111; 2010) deals a blow to adults who practice computerized brain games hoping to improve their mental functions and transfer their skills to other cognitive domains. Sweepingly suggesting that training effects do not transfer seems to generalise the present findings to other variants of cognitive exercises and cohorts, including children. This latter claim is surprising, however, not only because the authors tested no children but also because several independent studies have provided mounting evidence that cognitive training – for example of attention or working memory – can have significant and generalisable effects in paediatric populations. Several researchers, including Michael Posner of the University of Oregon and Torkel Klingberg of the Karolinska Institute, have independently provided compelling evidence that computerized training in early life is viable and transferable across untrained cognitive tasks. For example, findings from these and other developmental cognitive neuroscientists have shown that nascent training programs, when applied rigorously and in concert with a plausible brain theory, appear to improve psychological performance, including on tasks measuring working memory, complex reasoning, inhibition, and impulsivity in healthy preschoolers as well as in children and adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). As a case in point, one study showed that healthy 4- and 6-year-old children, who trained on a 5-week attention training protocol, improved on measures of executive attention, non-verbal Intelligence Quotient (IQ), and signature brain waves as measured by scalp electrode recordings. At least in children, therefore, the prospect of computerized training is beguiling.

Studies with adults have been less conclusive, but here too Klingberg and his colleagues, to name but one group, have provided data that are at odds with the recent Nature report. It is difficult to provide meaningful results without controlling for the multiple parameters that influence the efficacy of a given training program; these include length of session, frequency, context, baseline performance of participants, and other motivational factors. With hundreds of computerized training programs on the market, most with little or no scientific evidence to recommend them, it behoves us to make judicious claims. The innovative partnership of the BBC Lab UK with professional scientists provided over 11,000 data points, quasi-meticulous procedures, and the stentorian voice of Nature, but we suspect that this account hardly represents the magnum opus on computerized training.

Posted on behalf of Amir Raz & Rose Golinski, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada

BBC Brain Training

Brain Test Britain



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