We’re all familiar with the strategies, and most of us are guarded when it comes to them. We’ve been hyper exposed to “before and after” pictures promising easy diets. Our email boxes have been inundated with products promising herbal supplements and treatments to promote penile growth. Snake oil salesmen are everywhere, looking to pray on desperation.
The appeal isn’t hard to understand. People want to improve themselves, and they don’t want to work very hard at it. We have all these insecurities that we want to treat, and the fact is, some of them can’t even be treated. As a result, a lot of people waste a lot of time, money, and effort trying to perfect themselves through largely ineffective means. Sometimes there’s even a placebo effect that helps the marketing. Other times, there’s an added desperation as people begin to feel like they are the problem; not the predatory product.
Most of the people I know are aware of these practices when it comes to vanity products. But brain training games like Brain Age and services like Lumosity have pioneered the tactics on an all new front —cognitive function.
It’s clever, when you think about it. After all, who wouldn’t want to be smarter? And, for the most part, who can even tell if they are getting smarter? It’s hard to measure, and most customers won’t go out of the way to test themselves. They’ll simply believe, in part convincing themselves, that their efforts have come to fruition. As such, they will remain hooked.
But wait, what about the “science?”
The science promoting brain training games is peculiar in that there are no positive studies promoting Lumosity other than the ones actually commissioned by the company. What’s more, regarding their Brain Age games, Nintendo refuses to make any actual claims regarding the effectiveness of their product, asserting that they are only an entertainment company.
Contrary to the questionable Lumosity Lab Tests, which are completely lacking in peer reviews, are a bunch of tests that refute their claims. These findings don’t have the marketing budget, or the interest, to completely undo Lumosity’s business model, unfortunately.
A 2010 study by actual neuroscientist (as opposed to the founder of Lumosity, who dropped out of his degree) found that, through tracking 11,000 adults over a period of 6 weeks, that cognitive function didn’t approve and that they didn’t demonstrate any general advantages in their day to day life. They did, however, improve at the tasks designed to improve “neuroplasticity,” whatever the hell that is.
Essentially, people that repetitively played brain training games, got better at them. In layman’s terms, they realized that practice makes perfect; a great way of creating an illusion of becoming smarter. Truthfully, if you do anything over and over, you will get better at it. We’ve known that for ages.
So, What’s the Harm?
Other than the obvious, where these brain training games and programs extract money from unsuspecting customer’s wallets, they reroute their focus to irreverent, mundane gaming that isn’t even fun. If someone wants to get smarter, there are other routes to take that could prove to not only be more fun, but actually effective. Timeless practices like reading books, watching documentaries, studying language, or even talking to people spring immediately to mind. Immersion in the unknown is the key to growth, here; not rapidly doing basic math.
In his fantastic piece over at the New Yorker, columnist Gareth Cook, alludes to inherent problems far more eloquently than I ever could. There, he talks about the responsibility of Lumosity has towards its customers.
“The responsibility is so heavy because the needs are so great. Many people who have suffered brain trauma are haunted by a feeling of diminishment and a frustration that they can’t do more to help themselves. There are millions of children with learning disabilities who feel lost and ashamed. And then there are all the seniors who struggle with mental dissipation. These are the customers.”
So, please, spread the word. Don’t let your friends waste their money on this rubbish, and when they launch into a fit of cognitive dissonance as the rubbish fails to take effect, assure them that they aren’t broken; their exercise routine is.
And then give them a book, a free sudoku puzzle, and a comforting hug. They have been duped.