If you do a quick web search for brain training apps, you’ll see multiple top ten lists designed for various cohorts. Are you aging and worried about memory loss? Or finding it hard to knuckle down and study for the MCATs? Are you suffering from ADD, ADHD, OCD, ABCD? An app is out there to help.
A Questionable History but a Brighter Future?
However, after Lumosity paid $2 million because of its misleading, non-scientific claims, it’s hard to trust any brain training app that promises cognitive benefit in return for more time staring at your smartphone. But Medical News Today is reporting that a new app, called “Decoder,” has been developed and tested by clinical neuropsychologists in the United Kingdom. And, apparently, it really works.
Decoder is a game that focuses on, well, the user’s ability to focus. The brain training app presents a sequence of numbers that the user has to consistently identify. After one sequence is decoded, then comes the next, until the user stops playing. The idea is to streamline a person’s attention to a single, engaging task. Once this is done for a while, the person using Decoder will be able to take this narrowed attention to his or her other tasks.
The researchers who developed this new brain training app conducted a study in which they had three groups perform separate tasks under researcher supervision: one played bingo, one played Decoder, and one had no task. The group that played Decoder showed “significant” improvements, according to Medical News Today, and even demonstrated positive effects “comparable to the effects of medication that doctors prescribe for the treatment of attention-impairing conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” Some news outlets have gone so far as to call the app “digital Ritalin.”
How the New Apps are Different
While many brain training apps fall into the game trap, where the only thing that can improve is your ability to complete the game itself, effective brain training apps tend to be “plasticity-based.” This is according to a Fast Company article that detailed the findings of an Australian study of the efficacy of multiple brain training apps. What the study found was that neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to change and grow by small and focused improvements, was the key focus for a good brain training app. Decoder engages the mind’s ability to focus on a single, simple task, and thus pushes users’ brains to adjust the intensity of their focus.
If you’re interested in trying the brain training app for yourself, you can do so for free. Decoder was recently sold to the brain-training app developer Peak, and can be accessed via Peak’s app for free on iOS and Android devices.