You might have seen ads for “Lumosity,” a “brain-training game” that claims to help improve your cognition and memory by using games. On their website, they claim: “We transform science into delightful games. For decades, researchers have created tasks that measure cognitive abilities. We’ve adapted some of these tasks and made some of our own, creating 50+ cognitive games.”
Unfortunately, while Lumosity is fun, it doesn’t actually improve your brain. In fact, it looks like most of their claims were unfounded.
Last week, the Federal Trade Commission settled with Lumosity to pay $2 million due to deceptive advertising. As Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, noted, “‘Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease. But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.’”
The problem isn’t that it’s fun to play Lumosity’s games. The problem is that it aimed to market itself as a shortcut for cognitive improvement. And if we want a shortcut to work for us, we need to put in the time.
We love shortcuts, because we all have limited time, limited energy, and yes, limited cognitive ability. We want lots of results with minimal effort. But when it comes to shortcuts, you get what you pay for. If you don’t invest the time or energy into cognitive work or physical exercise, you’re not going to see results.
On NPR’s blog 13.7, philosopher Alva Noe reminds us that “there is no magic bullet for the mind“:
Even in the absence of the right longitudinal studies, we are in good position now to know that there are no quick fixes, that you can’t stop the effects of aging, and that, all things considered, active people — people who use their bodies and their minds and who resist the grab of habit, repetition and inertia — are likely to lead better, more satisfying lives.
If we want to change our lives, the only real way to do it is to put in the time, energy and effort. But here’s the thing — once you do invest time, energy and effort into an activity, shortcuts can work, since it’s much easier to maintain a habit than it is to start one.