Training the brain: fact and fad in cognitive and behavioral remediation

Brain Cogn. 2012 Jul;79(2):159-79. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2012.02.006. Epub 2012 Mar 30.


Putatively safe and effective for improving cognitive performance in both health and disease, products purported to train the brain appeal to consumers and healthcare practitioners. In an increasingly health-centered society, these applications constitute a burgeoning commercial market. Sparse evidence coupled with lack of scientific rigor, however, leaves claims concerning the impact and duration of such brain training largely unsubstantiated. On the other hand, at least some scientific findings seem to support the effectiveness and sustainability of training for higher brain functions such as attention and working memory. In the present paper we provide a tectonic integration and synthesis of cognitive training approaches. Specifically, we sketch the relative merits and shortcomings of these programs, which often appeal to parents who must choose between side-effect-laden medication and other less conventional options. Here we examine how neuroplasticity allows the healthy as well the impaired to benefit from cognitive training programs. We evaluate the evidence and consider whether brain training can be a stand-alone treatment or an adjunct to pharmacotherapy, outline promising future prospects, and highlight what training outcomes are plausible in line with available data. Future research would determine whether the field of brain training realizes its potential to revolutionize education and rehabilitation or withers away engulfed in controversy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / rehabilitation
  • Attention*
  • Behavior Therapy
  • Child
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control
  • Cognition Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Computer-Assisted Instruction
  • Executive Function
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Mental Disorders / prevention & control
  • Mental Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Neurofeedback
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Remedial Teaching / methods*
  • Stroke Rehabilitation
  • Transfer, Psychology