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Nintendo Brain Games Effectiveness Questioned 63

Posted by Soulskill
from the flickering-boxes-will-make-us-smart dept.
nandemoari writes "While Nintendo boasts that its Wii can make you fit, the game company's popular line of DS 'Brain Games' have for some time promised to make kids smarter by challenging them with word puzzles and math formulas. However, a French professor isn't buying the shtick. University of Rennes professor Alain Lieury, a cognitive psychology specialist in Brittany, France, recently studied a group of ten-year-old children playing a variety of mentally-challenging games. Not all were video games, however; Lieury pitted more traditional games (including sudoku, Scrabble, and regular old reading and homework) against Nintendo's popular line of DS hits, including Brain Age, Big Brain Academy, and Brain Training. Although he credits the Nintendo DS — one of the best selling consoles of all-time — as 'a technological jewel,' he finds Nintendo's claim that it can actually help kids learn is nothing more than pure 'charlatanism.'"
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Nintendo Brain Games Effectiveness Questioned

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  • by nmoog (701216) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @03:04AM (#26650207) Homepage Journal
    a professor of cognitive psychology dissed your product?
    • by zygotic mitosis (833691) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @03:11AM (#26650241)
      Exactly. I suppose the headline could be playing with the term 'brainbuster', but "go bust" means "out of business". Come on, Soulskill.
    • by Thanshin (1188877) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @03:20AM (#26650297)

      Yes.

      For example.

      "I'ma bust two caps 'n your ass!"

      means

      "A professor of cognitive psychology is going to make this your unhappy day."

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Yep I was expecting to read that the franchises were dead. Which would be very surprising considering the low development cost of such titles, and their pretty high sales numbers. Wish there was an option to mod a story -1 "misleading topic" or the like...
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Vectronic (1221470)

        There is, and it's already in use: "badtitle" (among others)

        However, the tags don't actually mean anything, wish we could mod the "editors" like everyone else. Give them an extra dollar per 10 mod+, we might see a lot more interesting articles, and better edited summaries.

    • by KDR_11k (778916) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @05:01AM (#26650775)

      Yeah, now put this against a neurologist (the titular Dr. Kawashima who apparently wrote a book about brain exercises and their effect) who measured the brain activity when playing the games...

      Also it should be mentioned that these games are NOT sold as homework helpers, they're aimed at adults, probably to keep the fluid intelligence fluid for longer.

      • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

        by Wovel (964431)
        That was the most amusing part of the story. Nintendo has never marketed the brain games to kid, nor have I seen them claim to be homework helpers. The brain games where invented to sell the DS to older adults who traditionally did not buy game consoles. Well he is French, probably not interested in reality.
    • by Larryish (1215510)

      If you want to take a "smartening pill" in the form of Nintendo DS, install DSLinux.

      It is a learning experience for sure.

  • by Shin-LaC (1333529) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @03:19AM (#26650293)
    ...that got the opposite results? Also, aren't brain games aimed more at middle-aged people than at kids?
  • Bust? Really? (Score:5, Informative)

    by KiwiRed (598427) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @03:21AM (#26650301)
    Basically the study showed that kids doing puzzles on the the DS advanced the same as kids doing pencil-and-paper puzzles. It's not saying that it doesn't work, it's saying that the activity works, regardless of the medium.

    So if it works, how is it 'bust'?
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by MoFoQ (584566)

      maybe the word "bust" went ....well...bust.

    • Re:Bust? Really? (Score:4, Informative)

      by ShakaUVM (157947) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @05:33AM (#26650949) Homepage Journal

      Yeah, if that's all he studied, it wasn't properly controlled.

      However, the summary doesn't mention that they divided the kids into 4 groups. Two with DS games, one with pencil-and-paper games, and one control. The DS games improved kids results by 19%, the pen-and-paper by 18%, vs control.

      So they do work. The summary should have said, "Suduku is just as good as Brain Age" instead of saying "Brain games go Bust"...

      • Re:Bust? Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by CopaceticOpus (965603) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @06:15AM (#26651141)

        The article could be clearer in explaining the results.

        Math test, degree of improvement over 7 weeks:

        • DS games groups: 19% improvement
        • Pencil and paper games group: 19% improvement
        • Control group: 18% improvement

        Presumably, the kids were all going to the same traditional math classes during this time period, and those classes caused most of the improvement. A better test would be to compare kids playing these games to kids on summer break.

        Perhaps the DS games help give kids a desire to learn and an eagerness to take on mental challenges. That would be an immeasurable but invaluable benefit.

        The oddest part about this article is the conclusion. After tearing down DS games, the researcher recommends that kids play sudoku, even though pencil and paper games did not produce any better results. This leads me to believe that the researcher had an initial bias against the DS.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          This leads me to believe that the researcher had an initial bias against the DS.

          Yeah, and he's French, too - can't trust those cheese-eating surrender monkeys, nosiree! Ragging on good ol' American companies like Nintendo, that's what them always does...

          Yee-haw!

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Directrix1 (157787)

          That and Brain Age has Sudoku as a game. So he is also not very observant.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Hatta (162192)

          * DS games groups: 19% improvement
                  * Pencil and paper games group: 19% improvement
                  * Control group: 18% improvement

          And what is the confidence interval here? Is that 1% improvement over the control group even statistically significant?

      • As I understand the article, the control group went up by 18%, so only 1% difference for the games and the paper puzzles.

        Maybe it's due to the Hawthorne effect? [wikipedia.org]

    • In other news... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DrYak (748999) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @11:25AM (#26653673) Homepage

      ...in other news, another french professor did a study comparing the effect of WiiFit in four group of teens.
      Teens in 2 of the groups played WiiFit in their leasure time.
      Teens in 1 of the groups participate regularly in regional sport competitions.
      Teens in last group don't have peculiar physical exercices outside their regular activities.
      (All teens go to a military boot camp as their everyday activity)~
      Results show no noticeable improvement within the 2 Wiifit groups compared to the 2 others~

      This come as a surprise after a study showing promising results among a population of modibidly obese couch potatoes~

      --

      More serioulsy : Yes, indeed. The other kids did classic games and all of them went to school. Brain Age isn't some miracle, so you won't see anything peculiar.
      Still all of these (Decent school system, edutainment, and classic pencil-and-paper games) are all better than drooling the whole day in front of a TV set.

  • by ericvids (227598) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @03:23AM (#26650325)

    From TFA:

    "Before and after the course, the kids were given tasks including logic tests, memorizing words on a map, doing sums, and interpreting symbols. Researchers found that children using the Nintendo DS system didn't show any significant improvement in memory tests. They did do 19 percent better in math, but so did the pencil-and-paper group, while the fourth group did 18 percent better."

    If anything, this actually PROVES that Brain Age is just as good as traditional methods, if not BETTER, while at the same time being FUN for the kids because in their minds, they are at play, not at work.

    "If it doesn't work on children, it won't work on adults," Lieury said.

    Can you say "non-sequitur"? As children our brains are more agile because we get frequent practice in school, but as adults we don't. I even remember the friggin' game pointing that one out!

    It definitely worked for me. As a kid I used to breeze through simple maths, but as an adult I started losing that touch, frequently needing calculators to do simple math. But when I started using Brain Age everyday, I've gone back to my maths skill level as a kid.

    If there's anyone who's a charlatan, it's this guy, purposely withholding statistics that prove him wrong.

    • by BikeHelmet (1437881) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @03:40AM (#26650409) Journal

      I saw on a TV documentary that old and infrequently used knowledge can be refreshed easily. Often only an hour of doing something will bring it right back.

      For the documentary, they monitored the brains of people that 1) Don't use computers and 2) use them regularly. They were tasked with searching the internet for stuff for 15 minutes. The first group was clueless for about 5 days - then their brains started getting really active. The others had active brains from the start.

      Paired with other studies done, this seems to suggest that even if it doesn't help you learn, it certainly reinforces what you've already learned, and brings it back into active use.

      I'm starting to picture the brain as a big HDD, and it takes about an hour to swap stuff from it into RAM. :P Then it sits there for a few days, until you need room for something else, and then gets swapped back to the HDD.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DrEldarion (114072)

      If you click through to the article this is referencing, though, you see the following:

      When it came to memorising, the pencil-and-paper group recorded a 33 per cent improvement, while the Nintendo children were 17 per cent worse.

      • by ericvids (227598) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @04:49AM (#26650725)

        That's EXACTLY what I'm complaining about. The author was purposely HIDING the statistics to make it appear bad. Read between the lines: 17 percent worse than what? Themselves BEFORE? Or worse than the pencil-and-paper group? If it's the latter, then that means they memorized 16% BETTER than before, which is STILL an improvement. If it's the former, it is highly improbable to happen and I'll have to question their method.

        Speaking of questioning the method, I have a strong feeling that they actually used pencil-and-paper to test ALL of the kids before AND after! Believe me, the medium AFFECTS the memorization; many people use short-term visual memory to memorize words on these kinds of tests efficiently. If they asked the pencil-and-paper kids to do the test on a DS, I'll bet you two to one that they'll perform WORSE than the DS kids.

        And I have a very GOOD reason to question the method:

        In logic tests the Nintendo children registered a 10 per cent improvement, as did the pencil-and-paper group. The children who had no specific training improved 20 per cent.

        Wow, suddenly BOTH groups are worse than the control group! Smell a conspiracy? I do too.

        • Also, is it 17% less of the 33% improvement of the other group (83% of 33)%, or (33-17)%?

    • by crossmr (957846)

      Can you say "non-sequitur"?

      I can say "quack".

    • by donaldm (919619)
      It does not matter what researchers come up with you will always have people who agree and disagree. Running a so called brain training program on a computer, game machine and comparing the results to "pencil and paper" or just memory training is IMHO a lesson in futility since the researcher needs to capture all information otherwise the results are going to be flawed.

      I personally think that before you present a subject with a test you need to ask the following:
      1. Are the exercises challenging?
      2. Are the
  • maybe not... (Score:5, Informative)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @03:31AM (#26650365) Journal
    As mentioned in the article, [bbc.co.uk] another group in Scotland with 10 times as many test subjects found completely different results, that scores increased by as much as 50%. Also, in that group, the difference was more noticeable in students who were farther behind. Maybe the French students were all quite advanced, and didn't need any extra help? In any case, given the previous study, it is quite over the top for the French scientist to call it charlatanism, since there are other studies that show it helps. It would be nicer and more accurate to say, "the issue is more nuanced than often implied."
    • Re:maybe not... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Zebedeu (739988) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @06:34AM (#26651227)

      In any case, given the previous study, it is quite over the top for the French scientist to call it charlatanism, since there are other studies that show it helps. It would be nicer and more accurate to say, "the issue is more nuanced than often implied."

      Were you really expecting a Frenchman not to be arrogant?

      I laugh at you and your innocent naivety.

      • by alexo (9335)

        Were you really expecting a Frenchman not to be arrogant?

        I laugh at you and your innocent naivety.

        And I fart in your general direction.

  • by EQ (28372) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @03:32AM (#26650371) Homepage Journal

    So DUH, they don't work for children; that's not who they were designed for, nor marketed to! Fast reading of Tom Sawyer, or doing 100 Sudoku puzzles is hardly "kid" activity. This guy missed the purpose by a mile.

    To verify, simply go to the Brain Age website [brainage.com] and read the blurbs, all aimed clearly at "aging" adults.

    For instance there's this on page 1 front and center:

    Exercise is the key to good health both for body and mind - and now, with the Brain Age games, there's a way to make mental exercise fun, even competitive. Just minutes a day, that's all it takes to challenge your mind and, with Nintendo DS portability, you can play Brain Age at work, on vacation, or anywhere your day takes you.

    And this piece of market-speak Inspired by the work of prominent Japanese neuroscientist Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, the Brain Age games feature activities designed to help stimulate your brain and give it the workout it needs

    Vacation, workplace, brain stimulation (like a 10 year old needs MORE stimulation?), yeah all typical concerns of 10 year olds. I mean really this guy jumped the on failboat: they advertise/review this at AARP.org (link at the site)

    So it seems me Cognitive Psych guy missed a very big cognitive clue: they aren't marketing most of these for children, but to aging boomers! What a dimwit he appears to be.

    Brain Age is not aimed at helping kids learn, its aimed more at adults to allegedly stimulate cognitive centers of the brina via calculations and puzzles -- that is supposed to help keep the brain "young". Some studies have shown that puzzle games of the sorts in these games help hold off aging effects on the brain.

    How well it works is up for discussion, but saying it doesn't work for 10 year olds for whom it isn't designed nor marketed, well, lets say the study psychologist may want to use Brain Age himself to see if it helps his cognition of the obvious, which is evidently lacking.

  • by Thanshin (1188877) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @03:47AM (#26650443)

    Did the kids reduce their mental age as they kept playing?

    Does the game end when you finally become your father?

    Can you keep playing, going further back, generation after feneration until one day you reach the mental age of primordial ooze in it's adolescence?

    By that time you should be solving the sudokus before the ds has had time to display them. And instead of simple drawinngs, they are n-dimensional matrices that replace numbers with string theories and emotional states.

  • Comment (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jorgandar (450573) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @03:58AM (#26650499)

    One comment already posted below the article is pretty good. I will shamelessly steal it:

    "5. Karen | 01.27.09

    Just read a SharpBrains blog post that may add some light:
    http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2009/01/27/nintendo-brain-age-training-vs-crossword-puzzles/ [sharpbrains.com]

    "As we have said before, Nintendo Brain Age and Brain Training should be seen as what they are: a game. And the construct of one's having a "brain age" makes no sense.

    Having said that, the researcher quoted then offers, out of the blue, one of the less accurate statements of our times:

    "The study tested Nintendo's claims on 67 ten-year-olds. "That's the age where you have the best chance of improvement," Professor Lieury said. "If it doesn't work on children, it won't work on adults."

    That hypothesis (that something won't "work" on adults because it won't "work" on kids) has already been tested and falsified.

    In a couple of recent trials, discussed here, the same strategy game (Rise of Nations, a complex challenge for executive functions), played for the same number of hours (23) showed quite impressive (untrained) cognitive benefits in people over 60 - and no benefits in people in their 20s.

    How can this be? Well, we often say that our brains need novelty, variety and challenge - and it should be obvious that those ingredients depend on who we are/ what we do. A crossword may well be new and challenging for a kid, but not for an older adult who has done a million already. A videogame can provide good challenge to an older adult - and probably not to the kid who already spends 5 hours a day playing them."

    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      Why was this modded redundant? It's like modding an article that's been slashdotted redundant. It's quoted material from another page. It's not like that wasn't made clear.
  • Since the Professor Lieury is, apparently, a complete lackwit, maybe he's the one who should play. Perhaps then he'll be able to understand that the games are marketed to adults, not children, and that his own results validate the functionality of the games (exercising the brain on "Brain Age" works just as well as exercising it with other tools).

    To borrow a phrase "What a maroon!".

  • Professor Lieury needs to get laid.
  • beside Big Brain Academy, the DS brain games always featured older people using the DS to help sustain problem solving skills. if you buy Brain Age like i did they talk about how each puzzle effects your prefrontal cortex which is the problem solving portion of your brain. also they say if your under 18 you have yet to fully develop this part of your brain. and since all 3 games appeal to the same part of the brain since they are all based on reflex and problem solving they arent meant for little kids to be
  • They are only really just trying to keep your attention away from the fact that it works. Not because your kid is going to be smarter playing the game, but that it will make it smarter because he`s playing the game. And hes playing the game because its fun, much more fun than doing homework. So what work best, something that will make your kid smarter or something that would make your kid smarter if he did it? (he doesn`t like to do homeworks, he likes to play to the DS)
  • I love the DS's educational games, and they certainly are educational. My favourites include Brain Age, Teach Yourself French, Spelling Challenge, and Cooking Guide: Can't Decide What to Eat?

    Maybe they're not as educational as homework but so what? I love increasing my French vocabulary a little while I'm on a plane to Quebec. If I'm going to play a fun little diversion why not learn a little something in the mean time?

    The real benefit is keeping yourself engaged. That's the benefit of Wii Fit as
  • i pla 8 0r 9 days a weak. and it does gud. mi math is beter (i skor 12 0f 10 lots)
  • 1. This is news from the Christian Science Monitor. Generally they try not to be bias against science stories. But everyone once in a while they hire some knucklehead who was raised on nothing but Billy Graham Specials and the 700 Club.

    2. Whenever a Scottish scientist holds a study proving something is true, there is more than likely some Scott-hating French scientist who holds an invalid test concluding that "Scotty is wrong". (Screw you, Frenchie!)

    3. Television starts with the letter T [deviantart.com].

We can predict everything, except the future.

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