Scientists Find No Evidence That Brain Games Make You Brainier

Katherine Streeter for NPR

Want to be smarter? More focused? Free of memory problems as you age?

If so, don’t count on brain games to help you.

That’s the conclusion of an exhaustive evaluation of the scientific literature on brain training games and programs. It was published Monday in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

“It’s disappointing that the evidence isn’t stronger,” says Daniel Simons, an author of the article and a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“It would be really nice if you could play some games and have it radically change your cognitive abilities,” Simons says. “But the studies don’t show that on objectively measured real-world outcomes.”

The evaluation, done by a team of seven scientists, is a response to a very public disagreement about the effectiveness of brain games, Simons says.

In October 2014, more than 70 scientists published an open letter objecting to marketing claims made by brain training companies. Pretty soon, another group, with more than 100 scientists, published a rebuttal saying brain training has a solid scientific base.

“So you had two consensus statements, each signed by many, many people, that came to essentially opposite conclusions,” Simons says.

In an effort to clarify the issue, Simons and six other scientists reviewed more than 130 studies of brain games and other forms of cognitive training. The evaluation included studies of products from industry giant Lumosity, which has been a prominent sponsor of NPR and other public radio programming.

“We went through each paper and tried to look at the kind of evidence it provided,” Simons says.

That meant asking questions like: How big was the study? Did it have an appropriate control group? Do the results support the marketing claims made by companies?

The scientists found that “many of the studies did not really adhere to what we think of as the best practices,” Simons says.

Some of the studies included only a few participants. Others lacked adequate control groups or failed to account for the placebo effect, which causes people to improve on a test simply because they are trying harder or are more confident.

There were some good studies, Simons says. And they showed that brain games do help people get better at a specific task.

“You can practice, for example, scanning baggage at an airport and looking for a knife,” he says. “And you get really, really good at spotting that knife.”

But there was less evidence that people got better at related tasks, like spotting other suspicious items, Simons says. And there was no strong evidence that practicing a narrow skill led to overall improvements in memory or thinking.

That’s disappointing, Simons says, because “what you want to do is be better able to function at work or at school.”

The evaluation got a warm reception from at least some of the scientists who had signed the 2014 letter defending the science behind brain training.

“The evaluation was very even-handed and raised many excellent points,” says George Rebok, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University who has been involved in brain training research for the past 20 years. “It really helped raise the bar in terms of the level of science that we must aspire to.”

Rebok, who says he has no ties to brain training companies, remains optimistic that the right program of brain exercises can improve mental functioning and delay the effects of aging.

One reason brain games haven’t shown a clear benefit so far, he says, may be that they don’t work the brain hard enough or over a long enough time period.

“It takes mental effort and practice to be able to see results,” Rebok says. “If we can implement that long range, I think that there will be a big dividend eventually.”

In the meantime, the brain training industry is facing scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission.

In January, the company behind Lumosity agreed to pay a $2 million fine to settle FTC charges that it made unfounded claims about its brain training program.

And in May, a smaller brain training company called LearningRx agreed to pay a $200,000 fine to settle similar charges. Even so, the Learning Rx website still promises “A better brain at any age.”

Scientists Find No Evidence That Brain Games Make You Brainier : Shots – Health News : NPR.

Source: Scientists Find No Evidence That Brain Games Make You Brainier : Shots – Health News : NPR

How playing one game can help students get into college

Mission: Admission takes some of the fear out of applying for further education

Next week, the U.S. Federal Student Aid program (FAFSA) will launch a new Oct. 1 start date and form schedule for students seeking financial help getting into college. In previous years, the FAFSA start-date was in March. The change is designed to give students more time to prepare for college, and to bring the aid program into the same timeline as college applications.

Research shows that those kids whose parents went to college are far more likely to apply for college than those whose parents did not go to college, regardless of grades.

For activists and professionals operating in higher education, this is a matter of concern. Applying for college and applying for aid is not a simple matter. Most kids need help. But with schools still reeling from budgetary cuts, there simply aren’t enough in-school councillors to go around.

Mission: Admission shows students how to enroll in the appropriate college

One project that’s gaining traction is a videogame that teaches kids how to go through the process of applying for college. Played in realtime over the course of a week, Mission: Admission shows students how to meet scholarship deadlines, apply for aid, work on personal statements, request letters of recommendation and take extra curricular activities as well as apply to and enroll in the appropriate college…

For the rest of the article, please follow the link below.

How playing one game can help students get into college | Polygon.

Source: How playing one game can help students get into college | Polygon

Digital Literacy and Learning in the United States

Americans fall along a spectrum of preparedness when it comes to using tech tools to pursue learning online, and many are not eager or ready to take the plunge

For many years concerns about “digital divides” centered primarily on whether people had access to digital technologies. Now, those worried about these issues also focus on the degree to which people succeed or struggle when they use technology to try to navigate their environments, solve problems, and make decisions. A recent Pew Research Center report showed that adoption of technology for adult learning in both personal and job-related activities varies by people’s socio-economic status, their race and ethnicity, and their level of access to home broadband and smartphones. Another report showed that some users are unable to make the internet and mobile devices function adequately for key activities such as looking for jobs.

In this report, we use newly released Pew Research Center survey findings to address a related issue: digital readiness. The new analysis explores the attitudes and behaviors that underpin people’s preparedness and comfort in using digital tools for learning as we measured it in a survey about people’s activities for personal learning.

Specifically, we assess American adults according to five main factors: their confidence in using computers, their facility with getting new technology to work, their use of digital tools for learning, their ability to determine the trustworthiness of online information, and their familiarity with contemporary “education tech” terms. It is important to note that the findings here just cover people’s learning activities in digital spaces and do not address the full range of important things that people can do online or their “readiness” to perform them.

To better understand the way in which different groups of Americans line up when it comes to digital readiness, researchers used a statistical technique called cluster analysis that places people into groups based on similarities in their answers to key questions.

The analysis shows there are several distinct groups of Americans who fall along a spectrum of digital readiness from relatively more prepared to relatively hesitant. Those who tend to be hesitant about embracing technology in learning are below average on the measures of readiness, such as needing help with new electronic gadgets or having difficulty determining whether online information is trustworthy. Those whose profiles indicate a higher level of preparedness for using tech in learning are collectively above average on measures of digital readiness.

Relatively Hesitant – 52% of adults in three distinct groups. This overall cohort is made up of three different clusters of people who are less likely to use digital tools in their learning. This has to do, in part, with the fact that these groups have generally lower levels of involvement with personal learning activities. It is also tied to their professed lower level of digital skills and trust in the online environment.

  • A group of 14% of adults make up The Unprepared. This group has both low levels of digital skills and limited trust in online information. The Unprepared rank at the bottom of those who use the internet to pursue learning, and they are the least digitally ready of all the groups.
  • We call one small group Traditional Learners, and they make up of 5% of Americans. They are active learners, but use traditional means to pursue their interests. They are less likely to fully engage with digital tools, because they have concerns about the trustworthiness of online information.
  • A larger group, The Reluctant, make up 33% of all adults. They have higher levels of digital skills than The Unprepared, but very low levels of awareness of new “education tech” concepts and relatively lower levels of performing personal learning activities of any kind. This is correlated with their general lack of use of the internet in learning.

Relatively more prepared – 48% of adults in two distinct groups. This cohort is made up of two groups who are above average in their likeliness to use online tools for learning.

  • A group we call Cautious Clickers comprises 31% of adults. They have tech resources at their disposal, trust and confidence in using the internet, and the educational underpinnings to put digital resources to use for their learning pursuits. But they have not waded into e-learning to the extent the Digitally Ready have and are not as likely to have used the internet for some or all of their learning.
  • Finally, there are the Digitally Ready. They make up 17% of adults, and they are active learners and confident in their ability to use digital tools to pursue learning. They are aware of the latest “ed tech” tools and are, relative to others, more likely to use them in the course of their personal learning. The Digitally Ready, in other words, have high demand for learning and use a range of tools to pursue it – including, to an extent significantly greater than the rest of the population, digital outlets such as online courses or extensive online research.

There are several important qualifying notes to sound about this analysis. First, the research focuses on a particular activity – online learning. The findings are not necessarily projectable to people’s capacity (or lack of capacity) to perform health-related web searches, use mobile apps for civic activities, or use smartphones to apply for a job.

Second, while there are numerical descriptions of the groups, there is some fluidity in the boundaries of the groups. Unlike many other statistical techniques, cluster analysis does not require a single “correct” result. Instead, researchers run numerous versions of it (e.g., asking it to produce different numbers of clusters) and judge each result by how analytically practical and substantively meaningful it is. Fortunately, nearly every version produced had a great deal in common with the others, giving us confidence that the pattern of divisions were genuine and that the comparative shares of those who were relatively ready and not ready each constituted about half of Americans.

Third, it is important to note that the findings represent a snapshot of where adults are today in a fairly nascent stage of e-learning in society. The groupings reported here may well change in the coming years as people’s understanding of e-tools grows and as the creators of technology related to e-learning evolve it and attempt to make it more user friendly.

Even allowing for those caveats, the findings add additional context to insights about those who pursue personal learning activities. Although factors such as educational attainment or age might influence whether people use digital tools in learning, other things such as people’s digital skills and their trust in online information may also loom large. These “readiness” factors, separate and apart from demographic ones, are the focus in this report.

The results are also significant in light of Americans’ expressed interest in learning and personal growth. Most Americans said in the Center survey that they like to look for opportunities to grow as people: 58% said this applies to them “very well” and another 31% said it applies to them “somewhat well.” Additionally, as they age, many Americans say they hope to stay active and engaged with the world.

Digital Literacy and Learning in the United States | Pew Research Center.

Source: Digital Literacy and Learning in the United States | Pew Research Center

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