The BBC trial of brain training mentioned in my last post  demonstrated that Brain Training is ‘only as good as spending six weeks using the internet. There is no meaningful difference’, as is shown in the clip above.

The ‘Brain Test Britain’ experiment was inspired by a study, published in 2009, suggesting the scientific evidence for brain training was lacking.   Tracy Packiam Alloway was instrumental in conducting research on this issue. She states that:

Working memory abilities are closely associated with a wide range of measures of academic ability, including literacy and mathematics. The majority of those with recognised learning difficulties in these areas have working memory impairments. Poor working memory skills in the early years of education are also effective predictors of poor scholastic attainments over the subsequent school years.

The point about brain training programs is that there is no transfer effect. You might improve your ability to recall numbers in a backward sequence over a short period (or spell ‘psychiatrist’ backwards as in Neurolinguistic programming) but not develop your critical or creative thinking and reasoning, your ability to evaluate and synthesise new information or relate prior learning to novel situations. You are no better equipped to know what to do when you don’t know what to do!

Alloway conducted a clinical trial with two groups of students:

The Training group participated in a working memory training program  and the Control group received targeted educational support (IEP). The two groups did not differ in their IQ, working memory, or academic scores pre-training.

In contrast, the Training group demonstrated a clear improvement not only in IQ and working memory tests, but crucially in learning outcomes as well. Students on the working memory training program went from a C to a B, or a B to an A after just 8 weeks of training! This is an exciting step in demonstrating that the right brain training can significantly boost academic attainment.

Both the Training and the Control groups underwent 8-weeks of their respective training programs and then were retested on the IQ, working memory, and academic tests.

The results were dramatic. The Control group did not perform much better without intervention, and in some instances they performed even worse in math and working memory.

Now, Alloway has a product to sell; but at least Jungle Memory appears to be founded on evidence based, scientific and peer reviewed research.

John Connell flagged up a fascinating TED talk about ‘Science Denialism’ and irrational thinking which describes the importance of challenging the ‘belief in magic that replaces evidence-based research’. The speaker, Michael Specter, focuses largely on food production and vaccines, but he could equally well be talking about the ‘leap into the arms of the placebo’ that many take about education. The clip is well worth watching if you have 15 minutes to spare.