Lumosity & brain-training – oops!

POSTED: January 12, 2016

Lunosity launched its brain-training games system about seven years ago. According to The Register, it has now been challenged on its core claims.

Lumosity – the maker of games that supposedly increase your mental agility – has coughed up $2m after being accused of false advertising.

And the San Francisco upstart will have to cut a further $50m check if it doesn’t clean up its act.

The money was extracted by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in an out-of-court settlement announced today. The regulator had charged the software company with deception for making “unfounded claims that Lumosity games can help users perform better at work and in school, and reduce or delay cognitive impairment associated with age and other serious health conditions.”

“Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.”

Lumosity responded to this by telling The Register that

Neither the action nor the settlement pertains to the rigor of our research or the quality of the products – it is a reflection of marketing language that has been discontinued. Our focus as a company has not and will not change: we remain committed to moving the science of cognitive training forward and contributing meaningfully to the field’s community and body of research.

Damn that pesky marketing language!

Gizmodo, however, put it more bluntly in their article headed Lumosity’s Brain Games Are Bullshit.

They point out that

Recently, a coalition of nearly 70 researchers spoke against brain games like Lumosity, signing a letter of consensus posted by the Stanford Longevity Center that lambasted the brain training community for promising a kind of mind power boost that just isn’t provable.

I use Peak. I find their games more interesting. Their wording is somewhat more cautious than Lumosity’s. They claim only that you can

Challenge your cognitive skills and build healthy training habits with fun but stimulating games, goals and workouts.

Their games are fun and I have certainly got better at them with practice. The key question though concerns whether or not the abilities I have gained are generalisable in any real way. Have I actually improved my problem-solving abilities or just got better at a particular problem or three?

I don’t know. I really don’t.