How Effective Are Brain Training Programs?

February 20, 2017

Questions over the efficacy of brain training programs have drawn much attention to date. In particular the study ‘Do “Brain-Training” Programs Work?’ was a key focus point in 2016. This was a meta-review of scientific research conducted on key players in the brain training industry.

It was a response to a 2014 consensus statement by an international group of 133 scientists, claiming that substantial scientific literature exists that supports the efficacy of brain training for real world needs. In contrast, the review conducted by Simon’s et al concluded that brain training interventions have evidence for being effective at near transfer, but minimal evidence for far transfer.

Media Response

The media response to the Simon’s review was substantial, largely interpreting that such interventions have negligible effect on real world needs. However, many publishers covered this as a debate centred on the ambiguity of evidence available.

It’s a debate that’s likely to continue. One reason is that the Simon’s group set out to examine the evidence for transfer according to their rigorously defined set of ‘best practices’. Accordingly all of the 132 cited papers examined failed to meet their standards.

Dispute in Academic Community

Understandably, this has generated discord in the academic community, partly because the call for costly, large-scale, double blind clinical trials for each particular cognitive application is considered to be unrealistic. An added point is that the Simon’s review included only research cited on each brain training company’s website. As an example, CogniSens was listed as having no cited research - a somewhat unfair assertion, as NeuroTracker peer reviewed studies were actually available as PDF downloads.

That said, we believe the strive to qualify research on cognitive training is invaluable, as there are undoubtedly significant differences in the type and effectiveness of brain training applications now available. The article ran by the New York Times on NeuroTracker, which weighed the endorsement in professional sports, against the broader scepticism on brain training, shows there an on-going story at play.

NeuroTracker’s Copious Research

Our position with NeuroTracker is that we believe our rich research base provides a role model in the industry. For instance, one peer reviewed study showed that soccer players trained on NeuroTracker showed a 15% improvement in passing accuracy in competitive matches – a rare demonstration of far transfer.

What’s more, we’re seeing exponential growth in depth and range of studies, which inspired us to setup a non-profit Applied Research Centre to support a plethora of high-level independent research groups in multiple human performance domains.

Enhancing Human Performance

The snowballing science on NeuroTracker, both in the lab and in the field, shows there is something very real to offer for the enhancement of human performance.  Indeed, the fact that there is so much growing scientific interest in NeuroTracker, indicates that this technology will lead the field.

More than this though, it’s important to also validate new applications of cognitive training within new market places. It is by increasing awareness and developing practical uses, that new forms of enhancement such as NeuroTracker will become widely accepted.

Adopting New Technologies

It’s not unusual for new technologies or interventions to become established before full scientific endorsement. Strength and conditioning is a good illustration here, as it still has negligible evidence of far transfer in sports, yet it is widely accepted as a necessary aspect of performance training.

As we expect to see more and more, it is by use in the field that the applied benefits will be primarily demonstrated. With NeuroTracker, such adoption has actually opened up valuable avenues of research normally inaccessible, studies with professional sports teams and elite American military have been great examples of this.

We’re certainly keen to keep growing this synergy between research and applied use in the market.

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