Can Brain Training Games Be Harmful?

Brain TrainingIn my previous blog, I covered the controversial topic of brain training and whether it really makes us smarter. A brief addition to that blog is whether these games and techniques can actually be harmful. Here are some of my thoughts on this issue:
 

  1. In general, I don’t think brain training games are likely to actually to be damaging to our brains. There isn’t any research that says they are harmful. Of course, if one were to play them 8 hours per day, I’m certain that wouldn’t be good for many reasons!
  2. The harm is more likely to our purses and wallets. While most brain training games and apps are relatively inexpensive (e.g., Lumosity, Big Brain Academy, Brain Age, endless apps), ones like CogMed or various training programs that we would take our children to (such as a brain gyms or other practices that promise to boost IQ and rewire the brain) can be quite expensive – especially over time.
  3. Another, related harm comes in the form of opportunity costs – what are our children not doing because they are doing brain training? Activities such as sleep, exercise, interacting with peers, learning a musical instrument or a foreign language all have proven, more broad, and more lasting benefits than specific brain training. For example, if a teen loses an hour of sleep per night to stay up and do brain training on Lumosity, then it is more likely that this teen’s performance across most domains of functioning will decline as quality sleep is integrally linked with well-being, including cognitive and academic performance.

Again, I think a critical lens needs to be applied when exploring various brain training games and techniques to make us smarter. As the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Although it is not glamorous or “cutting edge,” we shouldn’t discount the solid research supporting the many health benefits (including cognitive and academic), for sleep, exercise,  nutrition, good study habits/skills, and uninterrupted study time (no multi-tasking). I always like the metaphor that one shouldn’t use a frying pan to try to kill a fly instead of fly swatter. With brain training, this metaphor really holds true.

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