With just 10 minutes of gaming three or four days per week, you could stave off dementia, memory loss, and achieve “full potential in every aspect of life.” Sound too good to be true? It is. These were the claims that popular gaming app Lumosity made—and the ones that cost it big.
In January the FTC settled with Lumo Labs, the maker of Lumosity, for a cool $2 million for deceptive advertising. “Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads,” Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a press release at the time.
Lumosity was the fall guy, but it’s tough to blame the app. Brain training isn’t science fiction future—it’s big business today. One report puts the brain health industry at $6 billion by 2020. And with an aging America, it’s no surprise that a wonder-drug game for your brain sounds so appealing.
What the Science Says
“The battle is that the marketing can get ahead of the science,” says Paul Reber, Ph.D., professor and director of the Brain, Behavior, and Cognition Program at Northwestern University. “And the science is a messier process.”
“Messier” means there’s currently no clear answer. Brain training, at least in the form of playing Angry Bird-esque games, is bogus.1 What those games do, Reber says, is make you better at playing those games. This phenomenon, called a practice effect, is one scientists have known about for a long time. You’ve als…