Do “Brain Games” really help? FTC looking to regulate claims

FTC looking into claims of cognitive improvement through brain training.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) this week settled with the brain games site, Lumosity, for $2 million, and that could be signaling that the agency is planning to increase its regulation of ad claims and marketing ploys used by those types of sites, according to an article on Fortune.

Within the past year, the agency has opened cases against four cognitive training companies and a spokesman for the FTC said, “Cognitive training products and claims are of significant interest to the FTC.”

Claims by such companies that its “brain games” could improve cognitive performance and could possibly delay dementia and other age-related cognitive diseases have been scrutinized by scientists for some time.  The FTC asserted in its complaint that Lumosity made unsubstantiated claims about its games, and that some of the company’s testimonials were solicited with prizes.

The FTC complaint also said Lumosity used Google Adwords to “prey on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease.”

Lumosity and their parent company, Lumos Labs, neither admitted or denied the allegations by the FTC, but the company said it had removed many of the controversial claims from the site, and had long removed the use of disease-related terms in its search ad campaigns.

The firm added that the FTC did not challenge that using Lumosity improved cognition, and pledged to continue “rigorous research” into the idea that brain training is linked to improving cognitive functions and delaying the decline of the functions.

But scientists are skeptical, mostly because of a lack of peer-reviewed studies published in journals, based on testing of subjects before and after the training, instead of studies that rely on self-reporting.

One of the areas cited in the FTC’s complaint was that most of the studies listed on the company’s website were done in-house by the company’s research team and over 100 research collaborators.

Lumos Labs recently reworked its site to include its most rigorous study to date, with some 4,715 participants, that reported users of Lumosity games scored better in cognitive testing than those that simply used crossword puzzles.

While the evidence suggests there may be a slight improvement in cognitive ability when using the service, more research will need to be done to satisfy the scientific community and likely the FTC.

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