Can “Brain-Training” Games Sharpen Your Mind?

You’ve likely heard the NPR ads for brain fitness games offered by Lumosity. “70 Million brain trainers in 182 countries challenge their brains with Lumosity,” declares its website. The hoped-for results range from enhanced cognitive powers to increased school and work performance to decreased late-life cognitive decline or dementia.

But do brain-training games really makes us smarter or enlarge our memory capacity? In our just-released Exploring Psychology, 10th Edition, Nathan DeWall and I suggest “that brain training can produce short-term gains, but mostly on the trained tasks and not for cognitive ability in general.” As an earlier TalkPsych blog essay reported, Zachary Hambrick and Randall Engle have “published studies and research reviews that question the popular idea that brain-training games enhance older adults’ intelligence and memory. Despite the claims of companies marketing brain exercises, brain training appears to produce gains only on the trained tasks (without generalizing to other tasks).”

And that is also the recently announced conclusion of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), when fining Lumosity’s maker, Lumos Labs, $2 million for false advertising. As FTC spokesperson Michelle Rusk reported to Science, “The most that they have shown is that with enough practice you get better on these games, or on similar cognitive tasks . . . .There’s no evidence that training transfers to any real-world setting.”

Although this leaves open the possibility that certain other brain-training programs might have cognitive benefits, the settlement affirms skeptics who doubt that brain games have broad cognitive benefits.

Who Thinks Our Thoughts?

As I make words march up the screen, I often feel more like a secretary, a mere recorder of ideas and words that come from I know not where. And yet I also know that if I keep reading and reflecting—and feeding the friendly little genie that each of us has in our heads—it will keep dictating, and I will continue transcribing.

Read More

Happiness Doesn’t Affect Health?

“Happiness doesn’t bring good health,” headlines a December 9 New York Times article. “Go ahead and sulk,” explain its opening sentences. “Unhappiness won’t kill you.”  Should we forget all that we have read and taught about the effects of negative emotions (depression, anger, stress) on health?

Read More

Still Fearing the Wrong Things?

The shared threat of terrorism further hijacks rationality, by triggering us/them thinking, inflaming stereotypes of the “other” among us, and creating scapegoats. Thus, although refugees have reportedly committed no terrorist acts—either in Paris or, since 2001, in the USA—more than half of U.S. governors are seeking to block Syrian refugees, and reported threats against Muslims and Mosques have increased. 

Read More

The Reproducibility Project and Textbook Reporting of Psychological Science

In response to the big “Reproducibility Project” news that only 36 percent of a sample of 100 psychological science studies were successfully replicated, psychologists have reassured themselves that other fields, including medicine, also have issues with reproducibility. Moreover, differing results sometimes illuminate differing circumstances that produce an effect.  Others have agreed on a lesson for textbook authors. 

Read More

The Internet is Transforming Culture

I am just back from a fourth visit to China, where I enjoyed generous hospitality and have again spoken to colleagues and students in China’s fast growing social psychology field. My task was to speak at a Shanghai conference focusing on how the information age is transforming culture, in China as elsewhere.

Read More

To Follow the Data is Neither Liberal nor Conservative

My last blog essay reported surveys that show social psychologists are mostly political liberals. But I also noted that “To our credit, we social psychologists check our presumptions against data. We have safeguards against bias. And we aim to let the chips fall where they may.”

Read More

Crisis or Common Sense? Two Ways to Approach Scientific Replication

For my birthday, I wanted to run 100 miles as fast as I could. Luckily, I had a perfect opportunity. There was a 24 hour running race within driving distance of my house.   There was a bigger purpose in my run. I could determine whether a recent test of my speed and endurance would replicate. 

Read More

Why are Social Psychologists Mostly Liberals?

I was a bit stunned, while attending the January, 2011, Society of Personality and Social Psychology convention, when our colleague Jonathan Haidt—as part of his plea for more ideological diversity—asked for a show of hands. How many of us considered ourselves “liberals”? A sea of hands arose—80 to 90 percent of the thousand or so attendees...

Read More

Love Sees Loveliness

It seems unfair . . . that mere skin-deep beauty should predict, as it has in so many studies, people’s dating frequency, popularity, job interview impressions, and income, not to mention their perceived health, happiness, social skill, and life success. “Personal beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of introduction,” said Aristotle.

Read More

Do People Vividly Remember—or Repress—Memories of Traumatic, Life-Threatening Events?

Imagine yourself on a Toronto to Lisbon flight. Five hours after takeoff and with open seas beneath you, your pilots become aware of fuel loss (a fractured fuel line is leaking a gallon per second). Declaring an emergency, the pilots divert toward an air base in the Azores. But while still 135 miles out, one engine dies of fuel starvation, and then...

Read More