Brain Training. Does it Work?


How do we maintain a healthy brain, especially in our later years? Research on neural plasticity continues to show the potential for regeneration in cognitive ability. My advice to friends and colleagues is to begin exercising unused areas of the brain. People with left-brain personalities who enjoy detailed, sequential tasks may benefit from creative, non-verbal endeavors.  Lawyers, bookkeepers, engineers and the like might forego crossword puzzles and take up art or other hobbies that promote right-brain attributes such as spontaneous creativity.

I have no research to support this recommendation, but my understanding of the literature points me in this direction. More recently, commercial products are available and claim to substantially increase memory and mental fitness. So called brain-training groups are becoming popular. The brain-training industry is forecast to grow to $1 billion in the next five years. 1.

What does the research show? One study had one experimental group use online games aimed at improving reasoning and planning. A second group did exercises to boost short-term memory and attention. A control group just browsed the internet.


What happened? Those using the brain-training exercises improved in the specific tasks they practiced but their performance wasn’t any better than the control group. And none of the groups showed improvement in skills that weren’t specifically used in their tasks. So these folks improved in the tasks they practiced, but it didn’t generalize to other areas.

This reminds me of group therapy with adolescents.  Within the group, much improvement is noted in empathy, self-control and communication skills. But when they step outside the therapist’s office, they tend to revert to their former behavior. This doesn’t mean brain-training doesn’t have potential. Some bright and well meaning people are working in this area. Stay tuned.




  1. Naik, Gautam. “Study Finds Limited Benefits.” The Wall Street Journal, 21 Apr 2010.