Computer Brain Training: Is It Worth The Time and Money?

Almost every week I am asked about computer games for brain training. The overall reports are not positive for this medium. Check out this story published in Time: Computer Games and Brain Training

Why don’t computer games work?

Most computer activities focus on one part of cognitive foundations skills, typically on working memory or visual processing skills. But sharpening many cognitive skills together, such as attention, memory, logic and reasoning, auditory processing, visual processing, and processing speed, results in the best outcomes.

Computer games don't offer enough intensity. Intensity is part of what matters in changing your brain. It requires focused work, such as repeating a task 20 or more times at increasing levels of difficulty, so the skills become automatic. For real change, the task must also be truly challenging.

What's more, computer games do not help shape responses. They typically tell you that your response was wrong or right. But they give no qualitative feedback or little hints on how close you were to achieving something and what you need to adjust to respond on target. Let’s face it, we’re human. There is no bigger motivator for us than another person who is on our side. That other person to cheer us on is our big carrot to continue when things get tough!

There are a very few computer activities that might be helpful to tweak your brain skills, but they need to be used as part of a comprehensive cognitive program. That's what we offer at The Brain Trainer.

A Gift That Matters

I like to give gifts that bring my family closer together, such as seeing a performance together, riding horses or playing interactive games.  I’m not too big on just things…they come and go.  It is the shared memories I am interested in creating.

However, of all the things I have given my daughter over the last 12 years, the one that I know has changed her life and will be with her forever is the gift of visualization.  Think this gift isn’t important?  Survivors of concentration camps and prisoners of war often talk about their ability to visualize a different future and this helped them hold on.

Do You Visualize?

  • Are you a planner and can anticipate events down the road?  Then you visualize.
  • Do you love to read and can make a movie in your head? Yes!  You visualize.
  • If you are trying to recall something, is it helpful if you close your eyes to think about it?  You’re making your brain see a picture!
  • Do you play sports?  Can you foresee where you need to be on the field or court and move to the right spot to make plays?  You are anticipating based on planning and visualizing!

Why Is Visualization So Valuable?

  • It helps with recall.
  • It makes reading enjoyable.
  • It helps with imagination.
  • It often proceeds problem solving.
  • It builds confidence by allowing you to see a positive future.

Techniques to Learn Visualization

  • Start with pictures you can see.
  • Tell a story about the pictures that link the images together.
  • Think of the concepts before and after each picture.  Let's say you're trying to recall the states in order alphabetically.  Practice by visualizing the words from the middle of the list -- Louisiana comes before Maine, Massachusetts after Maine -- rather than starting with Alabama.
  • Make the story unique, funny,  a real TALL TALE.
  • Try it with your eyes closed.
  • Rehearse it forward, backward and start it at different points such as from the your third link (an example would be In the grocery store I got a big silver cart with a red seat, then I picked up a dvd from the Red Box (I’m seeing a large red box with dvd ‘s falling into my cart, next I am picking up green bananas, green, green bananas (I see the bananas sliding down the dvd pile – it’s funny because people slip on banana peels and now the banana peel is slipping and sliding), I buy flowers  (the flowers are yellow and green like the banana peel), then I get milk ( I see the flowers in an old milk jug), …What was the 3rd thing on my list?  What was before the green, green bananas?  What came after?  What was the last thing I bought?
  • Adding a rhythm and tune to any list helps memory.  For example, you can create your own jingle with Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, through the entire list of states to help yourself remember them in order.