Companies hawking brain-training games have enjoyed massive success in recent years. Joe Hardy, the vice president of research and development at Lumosity—one of the most well-known of these companies—told The Scientist in an e-mail that his firm has more than 50 million users. These ventures bank on consumers’ expectations of cognitive benefits from brain training, but the scientific evidence to date suggests that the games do little beyond make people better at the specific tasks involved in game-play.

“I am not totally negative about the potential for brain training,” said David Meyer, a psychologist and cognitive scientist who directs the University of Michigan’s Brain, Cognition, and Action Laboratory. But he added that there are certainly vast individual differences in the effectiveness of brain training and highlighted the dearth of sound evidence for far transfer. “What the brain-training games do is help you to get better at particular, relatively limited kinds of tasks that in effect are exercised by the game,” Meyer said. “The implication on the part of the companies is that somehow you’re going to get better at everything that is mental, and there is no evidence to show that.”

Meyer is optimistic that questions about the effectiveness of brain-training games can be answered empirically, but “we’re going to need an enormous amount more research than has been invested so far,” he said.

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