Sunday, December 29, 2013

Clinical research indicates you are smarter if you don't buy lumosity

Lumosity is a scam. It costs $15 a month and it will change your brain. What does it do to your brain? It makes your brain better at playing the lumosity games. 

(If you're interested in games and gaming that may actually help you recover, see this link.)

Really you don't need fancy software and a computer interface to do what human brains have been doing for the last 200 thousand years. 

Heck, these guys don't even use the word neuroplasticity right. Their tagline is "Lumosity is based on the science of neuroplasticity." But neuroplasticity is not science. 

(note: The previous link was to luminosity's website. But they must've gotten enough flak about the whole "science of neuroplasticity" thing that they took it off their website. However, others have found, and recorded, the same statement.)

Neuroscience is a science. Biology, chemistry, zoology -- these are sciences. Saying neuroplasticity is a science is like saying E=MC2 is a science. In fact, both E=MC2 and neuroplasticity are theories. Given the fact that lumosity has a huge stable of neuroscientists, you think they'd be able to figure the nomenclature.

The fact is, the best way to "train your brain" is to challenge your brain. This challenging of the brain -- also called learning -- changes neurons. Learning stresses out neurons which react by creating new dendrites, that then form new synaptic connections. The best way to rewire your brain to learn something new is the old-school stuff; learning a new language, learning a new musical instrument, learning a new sport, etc. I'm not sure I couldn't put it better than this: The (lumosity) scam is a pretty smart one because it melds together not just one but two classic plays in the world of conning – the idea that you don’t have to work hard for something because there’s a hidden shortcut, and the inherent belief that you could be brilliant if only you could tap some hidden skillset lurking somewhere in your brain-case.

How can stroke survivors drive this sort of change in their brain? It involves a lot of hard work. The work has to be very challenging. The bottom line is, there is no game, or machine or pill that will help you learn. And there's no game, machine or pill that will help you recover from stroke.

More up-to-date blog entry on "brain games" here.


blah said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Peter G Levine said...

Dear "blah"- your comment smelled a lot like an ad for lumosity. Given the leviathan-like financial power 40 million subscribers provides, it does not surprise me that lumosity has trolls. However, as always, I'm willing to be wrong. If you are legit, please email me at and I'm gladly re-post. Thanks.

Peter G Levine said...

From LK, aka 'blah"
Hi Peter,

That was a legitimate post. I’m sorry about the google log in “blah”. That is my husband’s account and I just used his login.

I know many stroke survivors that use Lumosity, so this is an interesting topic. The site really did help me – I believe. I’ve read some of the links that are provided here and it does seem to be quite controversial. As I said, I do agree with you and I certainly would not send them anymore money. But at the time, it was a year’s worth of games for $50 and I needed that sort of mental challenge. I’m sorry if it seemed like I was a troll – I’m not.

Peter G Levine said...

Some more Q and A:
Hi Peter,
I will try to explain this. I can get quite wordy and I apologize for that. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I am not as smart as Dean so, please don’t hold me to that standard ; )
I initially checked out Lumosity from a stroke-rehab website. It’s actually this site: . I was back at home after the stroke; I wasn’t happy with my recovery and I felt like I needed to do more work. I was using the site’s hand exercise suggestions to supplement what my OT had given me to do and that is where I found this brain-training information. I’ve also seen it mentioned on several stroke survivor blogs, but always in a positive manner. Hearing it called a scam was a bit different.

Here is a little background on me. I had a left-sided carotid artery blockage and lost my entire right side – 41 years old. I was in the hospital for 3 weeks and 2 of those weeks were in the inpatient rehab. PT had me up and walking before I left the hospital so, complete recovery of my right leg. OT was much slower, more concentration on opening and closing my hand and I did get to use the Bioness hand unit for 3 days before insurance kicked me out of the hospital. Speech therapy was a lot of word games(thinking of similar words), reading and recalling events, coming up with as many words that begin with the letter P, R, whatever. A week after leaving the hospital, I started outpatient rehab. I had 2 weeks of PT, 2 months of OT, and 1 visit with a speech therapist – she determined that I was fine and that was it. I could complain about that now but, I decided to work on rehabbing myself and your book was very helpful in that effort.

Peter G Levine said...

More... fro Q and A with LK:

So, now I will answer your questions.
But your comment is interesting because it has anecdotal stuff that is presented with certainty…
This is true – this was anecdotal based on my own experience, not on facts and I’m okay with that. I’m not presenting any of this as facts – I’m just telling you what happened to me and I am certain of it, for me.
Wow. This is why this comment concerned me. The same as your SLP? That's quite a claim! The same as all of them? Did this allow you reduce the amount of contact time with you SLP?
There are some games that the SLP gave me that are the same in Lumosity. One is called Word Bubbles and/or Word Bubbles Rising – the object is to identify as many words as possible that begin with a certain letter or prefix (P, PR, PRI ) and you work from that. The second game was Word Sort and you use your logic to identify how a group of words are related. I’m not sure what you mean by The same as all of them? I started using Lumosity as well as other types of word games after the SLP said that I no longer needed treatment so no, I did not reduce any time with her. The SLP had also given me many other types of games that were not on Lumosity that were helpful. I’m not saying that Lumosity replaced the work of the SLP – it was just supplemental. The same way that I looked up other ways to exercise my hand as a supplement to what the OT had given me.
If it helped you find words during expressive aphasia... did you collect any data or measure this recovery?
I started using Lumosity 1 month after the stroke. My initial BPI was 236 and within 3 months it was up to the 900’s and when I stopped in December of 2012, it was 1093. I realize that BPI is Lumosity’s measurement but the score did improve – maybe it always does, I don’t know. I knew that I was improving by the length of my words and vocabulary and my face-name recognition - that’s what kept me challenged and moving forward. I also kept track of difficulty and completion times on other non-Lumosity word games. Some were on paper and some were online. It all helped.

Where were you in the arc of recovery? If you were subacute, recovery would be expected no matter if you used lumosity or stared at a banana all day (spontaneous or natural recovery).

My largest jump was during subacute therapy. Do you mean to tell me that I could have just sat there and stared at a banana all day – I don’t know if that would have been as fun! Admittedly, game-playing is a hobby of mine and I enjoyed (yes, I said that) this part of recovery.

Peter G Levine said...

What I can tell you, is that when I started on Lumosity, the words that I needed and people’s names would not appear in my head. After using it and other word games, the words came more naturally. I have never had a problem with people’s names, but suddenly I couldn’t come up with a name to save my life. Lumosity taught me some ways to remember people’s names by associating the name with something about the person or their habits. Could I have learned this in other ways? Sure. I’m not saying that Lumosity is the answer to anything, it was just one tool that I used in my rehab.

Your brain changed in subtle ways (what ways?) (how did you measure those changes?) (how did playing a game help you figure those out?)

Pre-stroke, I used to be a big list maker. I planned everything and had irons in many fires. Now, I cannot multitask, at all, and list making never happens. It has to be one thing at a time or my brain can’t take it. But, I quickly figured that out prior to Lumosity. Lumosity has attention games and any game that uses divided attention, task switching or field of view issues – I do terrible at and it has not improved very much over time. I’m okay with that, I think that it has improved my lifestyle. The field of view issue, I was not aware of until Lumosity and I really had to work on that before driving again.

Pre- stroke, I was a game player(maybe that is the problem, here!) – word games, logic, puzzles, sodoku – anything like that – so I am familiar with many games and how I approached them. On some games now, my perspective and approach are different. I first encountered this in the hospital when the speech therapist gave me a logic puzzle to work. The way that I worked it was completely different than what I did pre-stroke (I used to work them in a very systematic, analytical way). Now, I’ve tried working them both ways and I prefer the post-stroke method. I used to work it in a mathematical style and now I’m more into the reasoning side of it – the result is the same. My approach to it is different.

There is a game on Lumosity called Memory Matrix. Pre-stroke, I used to look at this sort of game as symbols, the game-pieces looked like a “C” or a crooked “W” or an” “I” that’s chopped in half. Now I see it differently, it’s more about the connections and numbers of one piece to another piece, left, right, up and down. I hope that I’m explaining this in a way that makes sense. There are many differences like this and playing games helped me to see some of these differences.

All the info was in one place? What info? The site is nicely organized and easy to understand.

Peter G Levine said...

The info that I am referring to are the scores in Lumosity based on your training area – verbal fluency, working memory, numerical calculation, field of view, task switching, information processing – there are many more. I expected vast improvements in some areas (verbal fluency, face-name recognition), some improvement in other areas (speed, I even used my affected hand) and no improvement on others(task switching, divided attention).

I use several types of word and math-based games on several websites. I liked Lumosity because all my improvement was tracked in one place and I could see how I was doing.

That sounds very very good! But do you see how this seems like an advert. Its free, it replaces therapists and has a measurable affect. What could they possible say that would advertise better vis a vie aphasic survivors and speech recovery?

No, it’s not free if you want to use the whole game and I certainly did not mean to give you the impression that this should replace any type of therapy. I started using Lumosity after the speech therapist was done with me and I saw this as supplemental training. Some of the games were the same as what the speech therapist gave me and I saw that as a good thing. The effect was measurable to me, through Lumosity’s scoring.

No, I would not use it now because I am overly familiar with all of their games and I don’t get the advertising that it makes your brain stronger. It did make my brain stronger after the stroke(in the subacute phase) but once I learned the games and figured it out, that was it. Right after the stroke, it was a perfect tool for me. During that time, it was very difficult for me to play any of the games and it really helped me to see what was working in my head (brain) like it used to and what was not. I knew all along that it was not a magic pill that would make me better – it just helped me to identify the problems in a very acute way, so that I could work on them. This tool(Lumosity) was hard work for me, but I did it and improved from it – and eventually, it did get to a point where the familiarity of the games was boring and I knew then that it was time to move on…

No regrets – I would do it again – but I do really love games...

So that is what I have to say in support of it. I really don’t feel like this is a horrible thing for stroke survivors. If I can go out and spend money on Legos, games or puzzles to help my affected hand, then I can do the same thing for my brain.

I do thank you for reading all of this. Maybe I am an exception since I enjoy games so much and built that into my improvement plan. You can or cannot post my comment – it’s up to you. I thought that I had worded things accurately but I do not want to give any strokees or stroke caregivers the impression that Lumosity was entirely free or that it can replace a therapist – so maybe my wording was not satisfactory. I have enjoyed having this discussion with you, though.

Thank you so much Peter,


vb said...

Considering your point, how do you comment on this latest article on Nature,

Video game training enhances cognitive control in older adults

It's good science backing up video games specially designed to improve cognitive skills.

I'm not saying that Lumosity is one of these examples, but after this article you can't certainly argue that there's something in it.

Best, VirgΓ­lio

Peter G Levine said...

I actually think video games are good for training everything from recovery of eyesight to pilot training to surgery. But does Lumosity decrease cognitive loss? Not near proven.

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