Do Brain Games Really Work?

If you go into any bookstore, you will surely find wall-to-wall shelves full of brain teasers, crosswords, sudoku, puzzels, and other similar games. These book shelves are packed with a variety of brain games and mental exercises purporting to boost your brain health and performance.Thousands of these brain training games can also be found online. You can find a collection of video and computer training programs all supposedly designed to strengthen the brain muscle.
But, do they actually help? Can engaging in these mental exercises really improve your mental skills? Do they make us smarter or do they just make us feel smarter? These questions spark an ongoing debate among scientists over the effectiveness of brain training games. Below are just two of the many cases that are for and against brain training.

No gain from brain games

In 2009, neuroscientist Adrian Owen teamed up with the BBC popular UK science program, Bang Goes the Theory, to find out “if playing brain training games really does have benefits that transfer to other brain skills, like memory, planning, or problem-solving” (Mckay, 2013). They recruited over 11,000 participants, between the ages of 18 and 60, for a massive online experiment. The participants were divided into three groups:

  1. Reasoning group-Participants were given reasoning, planning, and problem solving exercises.
  2. Non-reasoning group– Participants were given tasks that were designed to train short-term memory, attention to detail, and interpreting visual information.
  3. Control group – Participants were given complicated questions and used the internet to find the answers.

All groups were given the same amount of time to complete the mental exercises and were asked to practice three times a day for ten minutes in six weeks. The results of the study showed “no evidence that the benefits of playing brain training games transfer to other brain skills” (Mckay, 2013). However, the study does admit that playing brain games repeatedly leads to an improvement in cognitive functions (e.g., memory) tested for those specific games. For a more in depth explanation of their findings, watch the video below.

Mental exercises improve your brain fitness

The BBC results has been disputed by many researchers who claim brain training games do work. Some experts suggest that “the participants in the BBC experiment just didn’t train enough” (Fernandez, 2010; Mckay, 2013). Researchers from the University of Iowa conducted a brain training game study with 681 participants over the age of 50. They hypothesized that “10 hours of visual speed processing training would prevent age-related declines and potentially improve cognitive processing speed” (Wolinsky, Vander Weg, Howren, Jones, & Dotson, 2013). Participants were allocated into three groups:

  1. Group A– Participants received two visual speed of processing training arms sessions in a university-based laboratory—one with and one without booster training.
  2. Group B– Participants were given the visual speed of processing software to take home and use on their own computers.
  3. Group C– Participants, or the attention control group, were given computerized crossword puzzles for 10 hours.

These participants were all given mental tests (see figure below) again eight weeks later and then a year later. The results indicated that the participants who played the game for at least 10 hours showed about 70 % improvement in their mental processing.



As cognitive skills training continues to evolve, will simple brain games meet our future training needs? What are your thoughts?


Fernandez, A. (2010). BBC “brain training” experiment: The good, the bad, the ugly. Retrieved November 28, 2013, from

MacKay, S. (2013). Online brain training: Does it really work?  Retrieved December 1, 2013, from

Wolinsky, F. D., Vander Weg, M. W., Howren, M. B., Jones, M. P., & Dotson, M. M. (2013). Randomized controlled trial of cognitive training using a visual speed of processing intervention in middle aged and older adults. PloS ONE, 8(5). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061624

Other related posts:

Learning through playing

Training Genius


Image credit: Brain Games


About the Author:


Cognitive Performance Group, LLC is a woman-owned small business with offices in Orlando, Florida, and Cleveland, Ohio. It was founded by Dr. Karol G. Ross, Jennifer K. Phillips, and William A. Ross. The three CPG Principals developed the concept for a company to support cognitive performance improvement in industry and government. (more...)

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