Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Broken brain games

You’ve probably did them, brain exercises. Did you feel smarter afterwards? Scientists found out that it is indeed no more than a ‘feel’. The exercises create no more than a placebo effect.

Your brain’s lies
The placebo effect is a common thing in for example drugs and surgeries. People feel better when they take pills if they believe if the pill works, regardless if the pill actually works or not. People can even get drunk of water if they’re told that it’s vodka. This is also the reason that there’s always a control group in experiments with medicine. With this control group, scientist can compare the control group, that only experiences the placebo effect, and the real test group, that also experiences the advantage from the new medicine. With this, the researchers can determine if their new drugs actually helps. But now scientists have discovered that the placebo effect also occurs when you do brain games.

Misleading posters
The used posters for the programmes
Cyrus Foroughi and his team have discovered this with an experiment that created a placebo effect on purpose. They recuited students for either a ‘brain training and cognitive enhancing’ or just a ‘study’. They then compared the results and found an interesting difference. Because both programmes were exactly the same. Students that participated in the ‘brain training and cognitive enhancing’ programme performed better on an IQ test afterwards than the students who participated in the ‘study’. This is a clear sign that there’s a placebo effect going on. But what are the consequences of this discovery for the brain games industry?

Industry on its back
Because almost everybody wants to be smarter, brain games are really popular. Who doesn’t want to have higher grades, a better degree or a better paying job? There’s a billion-dollar industry behind brain exercises, which now seems to be based on a lie. Cyrus Foroughi and his team advice the brain game industry to ‘temper their claims’. But does this make the discovery of the placebo here only bad? No, it serves as a great starting point for new studies about how far the placebo effect can go, how much it can improve somebody’s IQ if somebody believes he or she is doing an exercise that improves the IQ. This can learn us a lot more about how our brains work, and on top of that, if you believe that brain exercises work, they’ll work for you!

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