Brain training bug may soon bite the corporate bottom line

Such is the success of the brain training games craze that is sweeping through this green and crowded land that it wonÍt be long before it becomes an e-learning staple.

Have you caught the brain training bug yet? It’s getting harder not to. There’s been a flurry of media coverage on the importance of keeping the mind active and a slew of brain exercise products on the market. Not to mention the increasing numbers of pages given over to teasers and puzzles in newspapers and magazines designed to test readers’ brain power.

Mystic Charlton predicts that it won’t be long before this insidious stuff starts to appear on organisational e-learning sites, for an additional fee to the content provider, of course. And it won’t be much longer before enthusiastic corporate wonks start telling staff they really should start the working day with a brain workout.

In due course, key employees will, no doubt, be given brain training games to play on their mobiles and other hand-held electronic devices. It’ll give them something else to do that’s pointless and they’ll be told that it will give them an edge in today’s increasingly competitive world.

But how effective are these games? Suppliers and addicts sing their praises, but no firm evidence has yet to emerge though it seems reasonable to assume that if the brain is challenged on a regular basis then it must do it some good.

Perhaps that’s why so many celebrities have fallen over themselves to endorse Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training game. This was devised for Nintendo by Dr Ryuta Kawashima, a medical school graduate and author of brain training books.

It was developed after a member of Nintendo’s board commented that no-one in their 50s seemed to play computer games. Kawashima got busy on the corporate hamster wheel and a star product was born. Brain Training comprises a variety of mini games, mostly number based, designed to give grey matter a workout.

The celebrity ranks who have endorsed it in advertising include Nicole Kidman, Julie Walters, Zoe Ball (along with dad Johnny), Fern Britton and Patrick Stewart. What finer advertisement could there be for brain training products than that such keen and inquiring minds back them?

It couldn’t possibly be the fees involved, could it? Surely no celebrity would back a product simply for a trifling sum of money? Only the hard-hearted would dare to suggest such a thing.

Nevertheless, step forward Sense About Science (SAS). This is a UK-based charity that examines products and services endorsed by celebrities to check whether they, rather like those who promote them, live up to their billing.

Indeed, early last year, SAS went so far as to send leaflets to the celebocracy stating: “Before making scientific claims, check your facts – all it takes is a phone call.” To whom? Why to SAS, of course, which will do the checking for them.

This plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears in the esoteric world of celebs and brain training games. In one ad, Kidman says: “I have quickly found that training my brain [with Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training game] is a great way to keep my mind feeling young.”

Could it be the truth about the good doctor’s brain game is rather different? SAS says yes. It asked Birmingham University cognitive neuroscientist Dr Jason Braithwaite to give his verdict on Brain Training and similar.

“There is no conclusive evidence showing that continued use of these devices is linked to any measurable and general improvements in cognition. While practice at any task should lead to some form of improvement for that specific task, it is not clear that this improvement reflects anything other than a basic learned process for that specific task.”

Who to believe – an elegant Australian actress or a neuroscientist? Or the good Japanese doctor Kawashima? It’s a conundrum worthy in itself of a brain game.

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