This Is Your Brain on Games


The brain’s neural pathways often get fuzzier, or even distorted, as we age — memories can become less clear and more difficult to process in higher cognitive functions. It doesn’t matter how fast your brain is processing if you can’t recognize what you see and hear, like the difference between the sounds bo and go, or how you recognize that that shape on the corner is a child, not a fire hydrant.


With each passing decade, our brains produce fewer neuromodulators — brain chemicals that determine what information is important to record and process. This deficit hinders the brain’s ability to record new information — its ability to learn and remember. Memory games improve the brain’s function.

The “Bird Safari” game measures visual precision as well as memory.

I Once Was a 98-Pound Weakling …

In today’s tech-savvy world, where everyone is hyperconnected through smartphones, computers and video game consoles, one might assume that kids today are getting smarter. The modern world is “a double-edged sword,” Aldrich explains. On the one hand, we can find information quickly — via Google or GPS navigators, for example — but, on the other hand, “it removes the challenge of everyday life to improve brain performance.” Constant connectivity can also hurt our focus and attention. “There’s a tremendous temptation to be distracted,” says Aldrich. “Task switching is very detrimental to having great thoughts or building new things.” Distracted driving, for example, is bad driving. In the end, he says, brain improvement in the modern world depends on how you use technology.

All this promise of brain fitness and brain improvement are well and good, but what kind of benefits do they have in the real world? What does it mean to lose or improve your brain function?

Posit Science clinical studies have shown that after completing their Brain Fitness Program, participants show auditory-processing speeds increased by 131 percent, and memory improved by the equivalent of 10 years. The DriveSharp program participants have their risk of a crash cut by 50 percent and reduce unsafe driving maneuvers by 36 percent; and 87 percent of participants in the InSight program for visual processing and memory showed an increased rate of visual processing, reducing the risk of tripping and falling and improving the ability to maintain independence by keeping up with the demands of daily living — such as counting change or finding a phone number.

For people like 86-year-old Edward Manck from Bedford, Virginia, the Brain Fitness Program helped him relearn the saxophone — he’d stopped after he graduated high school. “When you play a song, you try to read two or three bars ahead so you can finger properly,” says Manck. “After using the program, I noticed that I started to do that again.” Manck isn’t stopping with the sax. “I’ve always wanted to play the piano, so now I’ve picked that up, too,” he says.

For others with trauma and brain injury, brain games can be a matter of survival. Steven Schultz, for example, was hit by a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq and couldn’t see, hear or laugh the way he once did. After using the program, he increased his attention span, increased his vision and was able to respond to people immediately, instead of after 30 or 40 seconds.

“It was just so valuable that Steven was attending to his brain injury,” says his mother, Debbie. “Pushing his attention span past that 3-minute threshold was just so important.”

Skier Dave Demko, a 57 year old from Pennsylvania, learned to compete against people half his age, despite a 20-year hiatus from the sport. After training and working with Posit Science programs, he ranked in the top 15 of 16 to 25 year olds. He realized that the younger skiers were simply not making wasted movements, and his only challenge was not physical — it was mental.

“If your brain is working faster, your reactions are going to be better, and your confidence is maximized,” he says. “You have to stay on the fastest line or you’re going to get smoked.”

Can Your Brain Lift Weights?

What will the future hold for brain fitness? Will brains go the way of the body — with a Jane Fonda – like character who leads the fitness revolution, and brain “gyms,” “fitness classes” and “personal trainers” popping up around the country?

Well, that’s already started to happen, with community centers offering “mind and body” classes, and places like vibrantBrains, in San Francisco. A “health club for your brain,” vibrantBrains was founded in 2003 by Lisa Schoonerman and Jan Zivic. Zivic had recovered from a traumatic brain injury and her doctor told her that her rehab would not have been as successful if she hadn’t been as mentally active. “Think about it — if you’re physically fit and you go skiing and you break your leg, your rehab process will be more rapid than if you’re not physically fit,” Schoonerman says. “It’s important for the brain to keep active and nimble and keep the connection and neurons strong so you can be at the top of your game in the moment, and to develop cognitive reserves which are protective if something happens as we age.”

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A magazine dedicated to the brain.

We believe that neuroscience is the next great scientific frontier, and that advances in understanding the nature of the brain, consciousness, behavior, and health will transform human life in this century.

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