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Website may not help cognitive abilities as advertised

While the popular website lumosity.com claims it can train users’ brains, some say the training it does is no different than doing crosswords or puzzles.

“When you think about training it’s really another way … [of] acquiring some new information or skill,” said Miriam Krause, assistant professor in the department of communication sciences and disorders.

Lumosity, based in San Francisco, Calif., was created in 2005. The site first launched in 2007 and has more than 50 million members. There is also an app for the site.

Lumosity has more than 40 games featured. All of the games focus on different aspects of cognitive ability including attention, memory and problem solving.

“The question is whether something like Lumosity is anymore beneficial than generally remaining cognitively active,” Krause said.

Ways that people can remain cognitively active include doing crosswords, puzzles or engaging in intellectual conversations with others, she said.

Having cognitive abilities all throughout life are important for people, said Richard Anderson, associate professor in the department of psychology.

“The idea is that it’s important to try to preserve those mental skills for as long as possible in order to have a good quality of life,” he said.

It is mostly important for people to find activities that will challenge them in a certain subject, Anderson said.

“Oftentimes strategies are helpful for one task but doesn’t generalize for another task,” he said.

In a study done by San Francisco State University, funded by Lumos Labs, which is the Lumosity labs, researchers looked into how well the games on Lumosity worked on healthy adults. Some participants played the games on Lumosity while other people did not perform the games.

Before playing the games though, each group took a cognitive assessment. This assessment helped researchers see how much people did or did not learn after completing the games.

The study found that participants who played the games on the website improved their cognitive ability “significantly” compared to people who did not use the website.

While Lumosity claims that they can “train” certain parts of the brain, Krause does not know how the website would do that.

“Memory, processing speed, cognitive flexibility, our attention are all related to each other so there is no one area of the brain that Lumosity is ‘training,’” she said. “It’s probably promoting new connections or reinforcing existing connections among all different areas of the brain.”

Krause also said it is important to have and maintain cognitive abilities or else people can lose them.

“The stuff that you use more recently is going to be more accessible,” she said. “If you don’t use those attention, memory, speed things you may … lose connections.”

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