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Brain Training May Boost Memory but Not Intelligence

You may not turn into a genius by playing mental games on your smartphone, but you could become a better multitasker.

Go to any website and you’re bound to see ads for brain-training games and apps that promise to exercise your brain like you do your body at the gym. But are these games worth the sometimes sizable money that they cost?

According to researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and other U.S. universities, the answer depends upon what you’re hoping to get out of doing all those mental deadlifts.

Many of the games are really just exercises to improve your memory. Supposedly, remembering better spills over into the rest of your brain and makes you smarter overall.

The researchers tested this in a new study, published Oct. 8 in the journal Psychological Science.

They found that, even with 20 days of mental training, games designed to strengthen working memory didn’t lead to any improvements in general fluid intelligence, the kind used to reason and solve problems.

This is bad news for people looking to become “smarter” while playing games on their (appropriately named) smartphone.

In some cases, though, people who trained on complex memory problems became better at other memory tasks. Having a stronger working memory, say researchers, could help you switch rapidly between complex tasks—such as driving while talking on a cell phone, or having conversations with two people.

The researchers want to do more research to see if brain-training games actually help with tasks in the real world. In the meantime, keep playing if you’re having fun… Just don’t expect to become a super genius.

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