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‘Apps’ that offer to improve cognitive performance do not have scientific support.

Applications that promise to exercise the brain comply or not

The 'apps' are based on neuroplasticity: the brain's ability to change neural connections, depending on the activities that are done.

Lumosity is the most popular of the brain training applications (‘brain training’). Like this ‘app’, there are many that offer games, logical challenges, visual skills exercises and memorization. Several promise that users can perform better in their jobs or in studies, avoid memory loss and reduce cognitive impairment due to age. Even reduce the progression of diseases such as Alzheimer's.

But all those promises are not always true. Lumosity had to pay a fine of $ 2 million to the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2016 for failing to scientifically support what it promised. After that, the application has collaborated with scientific institutions to start supporting its results.


Right and wrong
“The principle behind these applications is neuroplasticity: the ability of the brain to modify neuronal connections depending on the activities performed. One way to promote brain plasticity is by doing new things, ”says Dr. Pedro Maldonado, a researcher at the Millennium Institute of Biomedical Neuroscience and an academic at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Chile.

For the researcher, doing puzzles, replacing the calculator with paper, playing chess, learning a new language or traveling to new places encourages brain plasticity as much as these ‘apps’.

“The difference could be in motivation. It's like going to a gym to exercise, instead of doing them alone at home, ”he exemplifies.

An Australian investigation analyzed 18 such applications. Eleven of them were not supported by scientific studies. Seven were, but of those only two had scientific evidence of Level I (the highest), three had Level II evidence and the remaining two, Level III.

CogniFit, for iOS and Android and available in 19 languages, is one of those that guarantee what was promised with studies. “It's an online program that evaluates and trains important cognitive areas, such as attention, memory, coordination, perception and reasoning,” says Christian Bell, in charge of CogniFit's strategic alliances.

"Unlike physical training, people cannot easily discern what they want to improve," says Bell. Hence the key is an initial evaluation that determines a personalized cognitive profile. Subsequently, a specific exercise regime is continued for the person and level adjustments to reflect progress.

Another scientific-based program is Brain HQ (for PC and in Spanish). Last July a study was presented at the International Conference of Engineering in Medicine and Biology, organized in Berlin, which showed that its use improved the efficiency of workers in the technology industry who practiced with it half an hour for 20 sessions.

In practice, the program improved "cognitive efficiency." That is, the speed and accuracy of cognitive performance. "This study shows that a relatively small investment in training workers to achieve faster and more precise brains could have a great reward," says Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science, developer of Brain HQ. The professional adds that other studies measured the benefits of the program in older adults and elite athletes.

"The brain is plastic and develops new connections and eliminates those that are not necessary, because its goal is to optimize energy use".


Optimize energy
“It is clear that brain training works, regardless of whether it is with applications or not. The brain is plastic and is creating new connections and eliminates those that are not necessary because its goal is to optimize the use of energy, ”says Dr. Tomás Pérez-Acle, a researcher at the Science and Life Foundation and professor at the Interdisciplinary Center for Neuroscience of Valparaíso (Chile).

The plasticity of the brain is such, explains Pérez-Acle, that experiments have been done in which basketball players have been asked to visualize the throwing of free throws, while others actually practice them. “The group that visualized them obtained better conversion in their releases. That is why many motorists concentrate before a race and see themselves circling the track and give them results, ”he explains.

What does not have a scientific justification, says the researcher, are the applications that promise to improve cognitive abilities through waves. “It is true that the brain emits waves; in fact, in the state of meditation the emission of gamma waves has been measured and then the decrease in cortisol in the bloodstream, an indicator of stress, has been measured. But that is different from that from an application or with a headband external waves are emitted that produce an effect on the brain, ”he clarifies.



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