Lumosity Is the 21 Century Snake Oil Salesman for Your Brain

The snake oil salesmanship that is Lumosity.


The Lumosity “brain training” app has been well-advertised across TV, radio, and Internet platforms. Every morning when I tune into NPR, I hear how Lumosity's games can help prevent my brain from aging, playing on my deepest fears. For just $14.95 a month or $299.95 for a lifetime membership, and 15 minutes a day, Lumosity can help me build a better brain — a better life. But does it really?

It's a question scientists have been grappling over for some time. Whether brain-boosting games have the substance to create lasting cognitive change or if its contents are just snake oil.

In 2014, 70 of the world’s leading cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists signed a letter, stating:

"The strong consensus of this group is that the scientific literature does not support claims that the use of software-based 'brain games' alters neural functioning in ways that improve general cognitive performance in everyday life, or prevent cognitive slowing and brain disease."

They continue on to say:

“It is customary for advertising to highlight the benefits and overstate potential advantages of their products. In the brain-game market, advertisements also reassure consumers that claims and promises are based on solid scientific evidence, as the games are "designed by neuroscientists" at top universities and research centers. Some companies present lists of credentialed scientific consultants and keep registries of scientific studies pertinent to cognitive training.

“Often, however, the cited research is only tangentially related to the scientific claims of the company, and to the games they sell. In addition, even published peer-reviewed studies merit critical evaluation. A prudent approach calls for integrating findings over a body of research rather than relying on single studies that often include only a small number of participants.”

Even after trying to replicate the company's “The Science Behind Lumosity” paper, researchers found no solid evidence that commercial brain games improve cognition.

The Federal Trade Commission would agree. Lumos Labs will be paying for its bold promises in the form of $2 million for deceptive trade practices.

“Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease," Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.”

The FTC's complaint highlights the false or unsubstantiated claims Lumos Labs made that their program “would 1) improve performance on everyday tasks, in school, at work, and in athletics; 2) delay age-related cognitive decline and protect against mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease; and 3) reduce cognitive impairment associated with health conditions, including stroke, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, ADHD, the side effects of chemotherapy, and Turner syndrome, and that scientific studies proved these benefits.”

If you've been looking for a solution to help improve cognitive functioning (that has also been proven by science) try exercising or learning something new — take up an instrument or study a new language.

***

Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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