Programs that claim to make you smarter

October 22, 2014

Scientists have advanced their understanding of the brain and how it functions, which has allowed for the creation of such digital interactive tools as American Mensa Academy, Nintendo’s Brain Age: Concentration Training, and Lumosity.com. These programs claim to help you better process stimuli on a fundamental level, but progress may be subjective.


The multi-platform American Mensa Academy is a video game, which means its primary mission is to entertain. Still, it is the only interactive digital training program backed by Mensa, promising to promote the growth of potential—if not literal—IQ.


It includes solo and party games, the latter of which involve competitive challenges for up to four players. But the solo area is the meat and potatoes of the game, broken up into play, coach, and test sub-categories.


Mensa Academy breaks up the challenges into key areas—language, numeracy, logic, visual, and memory. These are further broken down into specific concentrations and come with a bronze, silver, and gold medal for exceptional performance.


There are no time limits. Although there are often timed levels, they are only there to determine where you are, not to help you get anywhere specific. You are under no pressure to undertake any games you do not like, so if free-ranging suits you, this game will allow it.


Unlike the latest blockbuster video games, you are not going to see any outrageous graphics or feel your heart race as you face off against some calamity, but there is enough here to make you almost forget you are giving yourself a mental workout.


One facet missing from the game is a help section for each section of the game and the organization from which it is based. If you get confused, there is a small description right before the game that gives a brief overview of what is expected.


For those with the Nintendo 3DS handheld device, there is Brain Age: Concentration Training, a descendant of Nintendo DS’ Brain Age and Brain Age 2. From the Kawashima Laboratory in Japan, it is designed under the premise that there are two types of intelligence—crystallized, which takes years to build through painstaking study, and fluid or “working” intelligence.


Seeking to stimulate the latter, Brain Age: CT wants to help build your concentration on single tasks, while increasing your flexibility with a series of games that dynamically adjust the difficulty settings. As you play, the game determines your aptitude and attempts to grind down your imperfections.


Kawashima Laboratory claims that with just five minutes a day, you will see marked improvement in your focus and acuity. In fact, they do not recommend much more than five minutes a day, nor do they feel that you should play any game twice in one day, as your brain might not retain the information.


While portable, you are stuck with the Nintendo 3DS version because it is an exclusive product. If you buy it and it turns out to not be your cup of tea, you have an entire game system that you may or may not want.


Lumosity.com bases its program of ever-shifting games-per-day on the study of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change in shape and density of neural pathways in correspondence with mental activity.


The site takes your age, education, and personal preferences into account when determining your training needs and puts together a constantly changing set of adaptive games every day that you log in, testing speed, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem-solving.


These games can be addictive and can be used on multiple platforms and phone applications. In approximately 20 minutes, you can increase your “LPI” (Lumosity Performance Index) and have it compared anonymously to every other member of the site.


It tracks your change over time, so you can see in detailed line graphs exactly how you are progressing and any areas in which you may need extra conditioning.


The Lumosity.com site has a family plan that allows up to four people to compare their scores and compete in training challenges. Granted, there are no player-vs.-player matches, but if your co-member needs a little guidance, you can see how they are doing and know where to assist.

Adrian Miller is a Field Service Technician with extensive electro-mechanical training and experience. He is the Zenith’s web and graphic designer.

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