Why a pencil and a piece of paper is just as good as a £100 Nintendo for training the brain

brain training

Testing: Nicole Kidman has endorsed the Nintendo brain game

It sounds like a good investment - £100 for a gadget which promises to boost your brain power and improve your mental agility.

It is a marketing phenomenon which has had adults flocking to experiment on their children's games consoles.

But don't be blinded by technology. A simple game of Scrabble or a good oldfashioned puzzle are just as effective in exercising those grey cells, it would seem.

Researchers found no evidence to support claims that the Nintendo DS console and Dr Kawashima's bestselling Brain Training game, which is played on the console, will boost intelligence.

The so-called 'edutainment' games have been endorsed by stars such as Nicole Kidman, Julie Walters and Patrick Stewart who can be seen in advertising campaigns using the hand-held Nintendo console.

More than 100million have been sold worldwide, partly thanks to the appeal of
the brain games.

But Alain Lieury, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Rennes, who tested the consoles on a group of ten-year-olds, says helping children with their homework, watching documentaries, reading and playing games is just as effective, if not better than brain training.

'The Nintendo DS is a technological jewel. But it is charlatanism to claim that it is a scientific test,' he said.

Games such as Brain Training or Big Brain Academy claim to measure the user's 'brain age' and say they can make players 'two to three times better in tests of memory'.

Enlarge   Test yourself graphic

The games apparently work by increasing blood flow to the brain as users tackle timed calculations, maths problems and word memory tests devised by Japanese Neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima.

Professor Lieury and his researchers tested 67 children and split them into four groups.

Nintendo Brain Training

Marketing phenomenon: Nintendo Brain Training game

Two groups were given a seven-week memory course on the Nintendo DS, a third was given puzzles to complete on paper and the final group was given no extra work.

Tests showed that when it came to memory tests, the paper-andpencil group recorded a 33 per cent improvement.

Those using the Nintendos showed a 17 per cent drop in performance. In maths, the gamers had a 19 per cent improvement, but so did the traditional puzzlers and the group undertaking no additional training improved by 18 per cent.

The paper-and-pencil group also matched the Nintendo DS groups in logic tests, with results up by 10 per cent. Professor Lieury said: 'If it doesn't work on children, it won't work on adults.

There were few positive effects and they were weak. Dr Kawashima is one of a long list of dream merchants.'

Nintendo defended the games, saying it had never claimed they were scientifically proven.

'The game involves a number of fun challenges incorporating simple arithmetic, memorisation and reading. It is like a workout for the brain and the challenges can help stimulate the player's memory.'