Can You Really ‘Train’ Your Brain?
As exercising helps our body stay fit, a lot of people think brain works kind of in the same way. There are a lot of ‘brain training’ games that claims to help your brain get better memory, concentration and inspection power and thus make your brain versatile and healthier. Even dementia can be prevented as per some peoples’ claim. Unfortunately they don’t actually work.
Flexibility of Brain
This particular idea of brain-training relies on neuroplasticity, an idea that suggests that neurons are like plastics and so they can be changed and adapted to new situations. In this regard scientists thought this was only possible when the brain was in a developing stage but later on found out that although some things get fixed during childhood, an adult brain is also very flexible. Losing this flexibility leads to something called a cognitive decline so this brain training projects claim to stop or reverse the loss by flexing the brain like a muscle. We have heard that practicing makes you do the job more accurately and with perfection. If you solve a Rubik’s cube again and again you will know different tricks of it and get better at solving it. But does playing such games or solving such puzzles make your brain more efficient and help you in real life? A group of American and Swiss scientists published a paper in 2008 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science and they said it could work.
A study was undertaken where 35 young adults were tested on their ability to solve new problems. They were assigned under a control group and had no idea who the scientists were. While this was on progress another 35 were tracking a square on screen and listening to a series of sounds. Whether each square and sound matched the ones that came earlier is what they were tested on. After a several week when the test was done, the subjects in the treatment group showed a rise in their IQ. This paper was very popular and was cited over 800 times.
But some scientists claimed the experiment to be flawed. They claimed it was because of Placebo effect. The people knew they were supposed to improve in the task after exercising, so they did. And that is also why when other scientist tried to replicate the result, they failed. Since then it was said that brain training can have a very specific effect on your abilities. In 2010, a paper published in Nature tried an experiment that could help 11,000 people improve their mental skills but after six weeks they only got better in the games. Their earned skills didn’t help them do other tasks. What’s worse, it didn’t even apply to similar kind of tasks. Card matching game didn’t help learn paired-associates learning test. Analyzing other studies also showed the same result that brain didn’t really get the brain trained. ‘There is no compelling scientific evidence that brain training games reduce or reverse cognitive decline’- reported 70 neurologists and psychologists in 2014.
So brain training programs work depending on how they are advertised. It surely doesn’t help our brain health but they help in some specific areas. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease got better at remembering names through practicing. Unlike some pseudoscience, brain training will not harm you. But brain training games earn billions of dollars a year and people pay them because they believe they would work. So to protect our brains we need more knowledge on the effects of aging and dementia on our brains. Scientists know when neurons are damaged we experience dementia but they don’t know how neurons get damaged yet. So what we can do to keep our aging brain healthy is acquire education, having a good diet, and exercise until scientists develop an easy way to train our brains.
Benazir Elahee Munni