Cognitive training may indicate evidence of training effect but does not show transfer to working memory, cognitive flexibility, or fluid intelligence in college students

Elliot Nauert


Recently, there has been an increased interest in cognitive training due to claims of widespread and transferable benefits of online brain training games. At the frontline of these training programs is, a commercially available product with 50 million subscribers. A growing body of literature supports the idea that working memory and cognitive flexibility, two skills on which LumosityTM training can be focused, are linked with fluid intelligence and academic success. The literature is less consistent, however, on whether or not lasting improvements in cognition can be made through training these skills. Our study compared the effectiveness of cognitively challenging tasks, including LumosityTM’s program, in building transferable skills that contribute to improvements in fluid intelligence. We recruited approximately 100 student participants aged 18-24, randomly sorted into 1 of 5 groups: No Contact Control, Alternate Task Control (Sudoku puzzles), Crystallized Intelligence Control (Trivia), Flexibility-Focused LumosityTM, and Memory-Focused LumosityTM. Participants completed “workouts” for cognitive improvement 3-5 times per week for 20 minutes, as recommended by LumosityTM’s website. Pre- and post-test measures of flexibility, memory and fluid intelligence were compared after six weeks of training. Our results showed improvements in measures of memory, flexibility, and fluid intelligence, but no significantly greater improvement for any particular training group. In addition, our correlational examinations of flexibility and memory versus fluid intelligence did not indicate significant improvements, contrary to results obtained by Jaeggi et al. (2008)1. Our data suggests that adding brain training programs to college classrooms would likely not be an effective pedagogical tool to increase cognitive skills. This finding agrees well with the most current research on cognitive training programs as well as the emerging expert consensus recently illustrated by an open letter from the Stanford Center for Longevity, and charges of misleading advertised brought against LumosityTM by the Federal Trade Comission2,3.


cognitive training; brain training; cognitive flexibility; working memory; fluid intelligence

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