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Numerous studies have indicated that aspects of brain structure remain "plastic" throughout life. Brain plasticity reflects the ability for the brain to change and grow in response to the environment. There is ample debate within the scientific community on the efficacy of brain training programs and controversy on the ethics of promoting brain training software to potentially vulnerable subjects.
Cognitive training is grounded in the idea that the brain is plastic. Brain plasticity refers to the ability for the brain to change and develop based on life experiences. Evidence for neuroplasticity includes studies on musical expertise and London taxicab drivers that have demonstrated that expertise leads to increased volume in specific brain areas. A 2008 study that trained older adults in juggling showed an increase in gray matter volume as a result of the training. A study attempting to train the updating component of executive function in young and older adults showed that cognitive training could lead to improvements in task performance across both of the groups, however, general transfer of ability to new tasks was only shown in young adults and not older adults. It has been hypothesized that transfer effects are dependent on an overlap in neural activation during the trained and transfer tasks. Cognitive training has been shown to lead to neural changes such as increased blood flow to the prefrontal cortex in attention training and decreased bilateral compensatory recruitment in older adults.
Social cognitive neuroscience also supports social interaction as a mental exercise. The prefrontal cortex function involves the ability to understand a person's beliefs and desires. The ability to control one's own beliefs and desires is served by the parietal and prefrontal regions of the brain, which is the same region emphasizing cognitive control.
By 2012, "brain training" was a $1 billion industry. In 2013 the market was $1.3 billion, and software products made up about 55% of those sales. By that time neuroscientists and others had a growing concern about the general trend toward what they called "neurofication", "neurohype", "neuromania", and neuromyths.
Starting in January 2015, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued companies selling "brain training" programs or other products marketed as improving cognitive function, including WordSmart Corporation, the company that makes Lumosity, and Brain Research Labs (which sold dietary supplements) for deceptive advertising; later that year the FTC also sued LearningRx.
The FTC found that Lumosity's marketing "preyed on consumers' fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer's disease", without providing any scientific evidence to back its claims. The company was ordered not to make any claims that its products can "[improve] performance in school, at work, or in athletics" or "[delay or protect] against age-related decline in memory or other cognitive function, including mild cognitive impairment, dementia, or Alzheimer's disease", or "[reduce] cognitive impairment caused by health conditions, including Turner syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke, or side effects of chemotherapy", without "competent and reliable scientific evidence", and agreed to pay a $50 million settlement (reduced to $2 million).
Studies that try to train specific cognitive abilities often only show task-specific improvements, and participants are unable to generalize their strategies to new tasks or problems. In 2016, there was some evidence that some of these programs improved performance on tasks in which users were trained, less evidence that improvements in performance generalize to related tasks, and almost no evidence that "brain training" generalizes to everyday cognitive performance. In addition, most clinical studies were flawed. But in 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found moderate strength evidence for cognitive training as an intervention to prevent cognitive decline and dementia, and in 2018, the American Academy of Neurology guidelines for treatment of mild cognitive impairment included cognitive training.
To address growing public concerns with regard to aggressive online marketing of brain games to older population, a group of scientists published a letter in 2008 warning the general public that there is a lack of research showing effectiveness of brain games in older adults.
In 2014, one group of over 70 scientists stated that brain games cannot be scientifically proven as being cognitively advantageous, whether that be in preventing cognitive decline or improving cognitive functioning. Another group argued the opposite, with over 130 scientists saying that there is valid evidence in the benefits of brain training. The question is how these two groups reached different conclusions in reading the same literature. Different standards on both sides can answer that question. In a more specific manner, there is indeed a great deal of evidence that brain training does indeed improve performance on trained tasks, but less evidence in closely related tasks. There is even less evidence on distantly related tasks.
In 2017, a group of Australian scientists undertook a systematic review of what studies have been published of commercially available brain training programs in an attempt to give consumers and doctors credible information on which brain training programs are actually scientifically proved to work. After reviewing close to 8,000 studies about brain training programs marketed to healthy older adults, most programs had no peer reviewed published evidence of their efficacy. Of the seven brain training programs that did, only two of those had multiple studies, including at least one study of high quality: BrainHQ and CogniFit.
In 2019, a group of researchers showed that claims of enhancement following brain training and other training programs have been exaggerated, based on a number of meta-analyses. Other factors, e.g., genetics, seem to play a bigger role.
The Arrowsmith program uses 19 different brain exercises to train 19 different cognitive areas of the brain following the premise that the brain is like a muscle that gets stronger with exercise; it runs for 3 years and costs $20000 a year.
There is mention of research with brain scans at the end of the documentary but I could not find any references. All I have been able to find are more articles reporting the positive results from other students:
Our goal with this special issue was to highlight integrative approaches to brain function. To this end, we focused on the most integrative of brain functions, cognitive control. Cognitive, or executive, control is the ability to coordinate thought and action by directing them toward goals, often far removed goals. 041b061a72