“Brain-Training” App Won’t Make You Smarter, Just Poorer

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The “brain-training” app Lumosity has just coughed up $2 million to the FTC for their misleading ads about the science behind their app. I had seen some of their ads before claiming that the puzzles in their app could make you smarter somehow, but honestly I really didn’t think that much of it because I figured, “Who cares, apps are like $2 and doing puzzles is probably better for you than most other apps.” I’ve changed my opinion now that I’ve learned that they had at one point claimed their puzzles could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s. And to make matters worse, it wasn’t a $2 app — it cost $14.95 per month, or $299.95. Holy shit! That’s a worse deal than EA charging people money to fill their gas tank in Need for Speed. That’s worse than Farmville charging people money for grapefruit seeds or whatever the fuck they do.

Let’s be clear: there’s loads of research suggesting that there are ways you can keep your brain healthy as you get older. Basically, you need to exercise it: people who read, write, and play chess or Sudoku showed better memory and thinking skills than people who didn’t, in one study of about 300 people. And the readers/writers/puzzlers were also less likely to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s even if they actually had physical markers of the disease in their brain.

And it’s not just mental exercise — physical exercise, like going for a walk, has also been shown to improve your aging brain.

But Lumosity made very specific claims about their specific products, and those claims couldn’t be backed up. The studies they claimed proved their point were unable to be replicated, and other studies show that, for instance, Lumosity apps are nowhere near as good for your brain as a few hours of Portal 2. Portal 2, by the way, is currently available on Steam for one easy payment of $19.99 and then it’s yours forever. Oh and they’ll throw in the first Portal for another $5.

If that’s too much money, good news! Your local library has an entire building full of brain-training apps, which are also called books. And there’s a good chance your library has an app — a real app, for your smart phone — that will let you borrow e-books, so you can easily read on the go. For free! It’s all free!
So please, read! Exercise! And yes, play games and puzzles until you die of old age. But don’t pay $300 for an app.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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  1. January 18, 2016 at 5:57 pm —

    And Lumosity is advertised alongside this very article. Don’t you just love ad algorithms?

  2. January 19, 2016 at 9:10 am —

    Huh. Coincidentally one of our local neurologists has just released a free app to do much the same thing:

    He reckons that artistic and creative pursuits are even more valuable.

    • January 19, 2016 at 4:51 pm —

      Over on Daily Kos, sometimes Taboola links to…Daily Kos. Seriously.

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