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Are all Cognitive Training Programs Created Equal?

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by Jean Castonguay

In late 2016, public interest in commercial brain training programs snowballed. This interest emerged largely due to an article that was published prior, which investigated their efficacy. The media, in particular, scrutinized these brain training programs; with multiple journalists citing the meta-review as evidence that these programs don’t work.

Investigating Far Transfer

“Do ‘Brain Training’ Programs Work?” had two main conclusions: firstly, that there is limited evidence of far transfer; and secondly, that the research across the industry lacks quality. Far transfer refers to the degree in which a learned behaviour will result in the direct improvement of non-related real world abilities.

Let’s suppose, for example, a pupil began to learn and play chess and found that his or her abilities to solve math problems improved. The transfer from the learned behaviour, playing chess, carried-over to a non-related ability, solving math problems. This would be evidence of far transfer.

Significant Program Differences

As I’ve mentioned before, the standards set by the meta-review of brain training programs were somewhat idealistic. The more pressing issue, however, is how it essentially lumped all cognitive and brain training programs on the market together.

There are several problems with this overall line of reasoning. Firstly, cognitive training applications differ significantly in terms of what and how they actually train people. Secondly, the quality of science behind each program differs wildly too.

Quality of Research

A new study, published in the journal Neuropsychology Review, effectively illustrates this point. The aim of the study was to assess the quality of research behind commercial brain training products. The researchers investigated 26 studies published on 7 brain trainer applications. They concluded that overall, the research demonstrated generally high methodological quality.

Studies by Posit Science and CogniFit even possessed Level I evidence, which is considered a gold standard of research. The researchers stated that the evidence supports that at least some of the commercially available computerized brain training products can assist in the promotion of healthy brain aging.

In fact, in order for products on the market to benefit society, they do not necessarily have to uphold gold standards of research. Even high-quality cognitive applications have the potential to benefit billions of lives. That being said, there still needs to be an understanding that cognitive training applications can be fundamentally different from each other.

Improving High-Level Cognitive Functions

A pertinent example is NeuroTracker, a cognitive training tool that uses 3D multiple object tracking technology. It’s no secret, NeuroTracker’s technology has produced unprecedented rates of learning and transfer. The majority of training programs require 30 hours or more of training to achieve measurable benefits.

Multiple studies reveal, however, that only 1 to 3 hours of distributed NeuroTracker training produces broad and significant improvements. This has been seen across a wide range of high-level cognitive functions.

Some of these studies even included evidence of far transfer. For instance, it was shown that NeuroTracker training led to improvements in decision-making abilities in sports competition. This is quite remarkable given that NeuroTracker’s training task is entirely neutral and abstract from a sports context.

Enhancing Human Performance

NeuroTracker is also unique when it comes to providing measures highly relevant to human performance. One example is why elite athletes have brains geared for rapidly learning complex and dynamic visual scenes.

NeuroTracker has also demonstrated efficacy across many diverse populations. These populations range from children with severe learning disorders to elite military forces – that is usually rarely demonstrated.

Cognitive Training Leaders

We think it’s time that people start to recognize the leaders in the cognitive training industry. After all, you cannot simply lump every cognitive training program together, just like you wouldn’t lump all fitness training programs together.

There are, and will be, training tools that stand out from the crowd as definite role models of the cognitive training industry. We believe NeuroTracker’s rich research base allows us to maintain our position as one of these role models.


jean castonguay neurotrackerJean Castonguay is the President and CEO of NeuroTracker from CogniSens Inc., founded in 2009 with Dr. Jocelyn Faubert. CogniSens Inc. is a privately-owned neuroscience company that specializes in measuring, identifying and improving cognitive function. In addition, it is also developing and commercializing technologies acquired from the Visual Psychophysics and Perception Laboratory of Université de Montréal, directed by Dr. Faubert.

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