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Report: Researcher Dismisses Brain Age Benefits

Calling Dr. Kawashima, the Japanese neuroscientist behind Nintendo's Brain Age software, a "dream merchant," researcher Alain Lieury completed a study demonstrating that children who play the games show no significant improvement over children who
Alain Lieury, a Cognitive Psychology professor at the University of Rennes in Brittany, France, is challenging the perceived benefits of Nintendo's Brain Age. With the results of his new study, Lieury asserts that children who play the game show no significant improvement in memory, logic, and math tests over children who didn't. Released in 2006 for the Nintendo DS, the Brain Age video game series is designed to increase blood flow to the prefrontal cortex by providing players with daily puzzles like unscrambling puzzles, solving simple math problems, and counting currency. "The more you use the brain in a challenging way, the better it can work," says Japanese neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima, who helped develop the game and serves as the mascot for the series. "We know that the mental processes of our brain start to weaken if we only use it in our routine daily life." However, Lieury says his own tests show that the games provide little benefit over other brain-stimulating solutions, and in his book shipping later this month, "Stimulate Your Neurons," he claims: "There were few positive effects and they were weak. Dr. Kawashima is one of a long list of dream merchants." The Cognitive Psychology professor studied 67 ten-year-olds split into four groups -- the first two groups went through a seven-week memory course with Brain Age, the third completed puzzles with pencils and paper, and the fourth had no adjustment to their day-to-day activities. The ten-year-olds were given logic tests, memorization trials, and other tasks before and after their designated routine. In the memorization tests, the pencil-and-paper group showed a 33 percent improvement, while the kids using Brain Age recorded results 17 percent worse. In the math quizzes, both the Brain Age groups and the pencil-and-paper group registered a 19 percent improvement, but the fourth group also did 18 percent better. The Brain Age groups and pencil-and-paper group also saw a 10 percent improvement in logic tests, while the control group improved by 20 percent. While Nintendo and Dr. Kawashima primarily claim to target adults with Brain Training, Lieury told the UK Times Online that he chose ten-year-olds for his study because "That's the age where you have the best chance of improvement. If it doesn't work on children, it won't work on adults." A separate study conducted in mid-2008, however, showed contrasting results. Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS), alongside Her Majesty’s Inspector of Education and the University of Dundee, surveyed 600 students across 32 schools over nine weeks to see if children who spent 20 minutes with Brain Age at the start of each day would show any improvement over control groups. At the end of the nine weeks, tests showed that all groups involved had improved their scores, but those using the game improved by a further 50 percent. The time taken to complete the tests also dropped by five minutes, with the improvement of the games group more than twice as much as the control classes.

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