Do Brain Training Games Help With Cognition?

Brain training games generate nearly $2 billion in sales every year, and that number seems to be steadily increasing year after year. If you believe the hype, these games can help with everything from memory to planning and processing skills.

But what does the research say, are these games actually beneficial, or are we all buying into a lie?

Let’s find out.

The Truth About Brain Training Games

Brain training games are effective, but only at making you better at brain training games.

If you are given a puzzle to complete every day, you will eventually get quicker and more efficient at completing that puzzle. You will improve your personal best times and after many weeks or months, you’ll breeze through the puzzle. It’ll feel like you’re making progress and improving your cognitive skills, but you’re just getting better at playing the game.

The mind is very quick to adapt. It doesn’t matter how useless you are at a task to begin with, because if you practice and persist, you’ll be an expert before long. 

It’s like any other video game. If a child picks up an Xbox controller for the first time and plays a racing game, they’ll probably lose control of the car at every turn and finish last in every race. Eventually, though, they’ll get used to the controls, their mind will adapt, and they’ll become better at the game.

It doesn’t mean that they know how to drive, nor does it mean they have better reaction times or even a better understanding of how cars work. Rather, it simply means that they’re good at the game.

The same is true for chess. It’s a very strategic game, but becoming a chess master doesn’t mean you can step onto the battlefield and turn into Alexander the Great; it only means you’re good at chess.

Are They Useless?

A brain training memory game probably won’t improve your short-term or long-term memory. However, that doesn’t mean these games are completely useless. If we’re comparing someone who uses braining training games to someone who spends their days watching TV and staring off into space, then the former will likely display more cognitive improvements and may notice less decline.

The games are providing some stimulation and keeping the mind active, which is key. However, the same benefits can be provided by keeping your mind focused on puzzles, crosswords, reading, and anything else that gets you thinking.

Learning a new language and engaging in a new hobby is going to provide infinitely more benefits than spending a few minutes with a brain training game, though.

The real issue with these games is not that they are completely useless, as they can be fun and they will stimulate your mind. The issue is that they are often advertised with claims that they can significantly improve your memory and even boost your IQ, yet there is simply no research backing up those claims.

If you like them, and you feel like you’re getting something out of them, then keep using them. On the other hand, if you’re looking for ways to improve your IQ, stave off memory impairment, and improve cognitive function, you’ll be better off keeping a strong social circle, eating a healthy and balanced diet, exercising regularly, and changing your routine every now and then.

Research suggests that all of these things will help you much more than a few minutes of playing a computer game.