Researcher: Brainy Nintendo DS Claims Are “Charlatanism”

A French researcher has discounted Nintendo’s claims that playing DS titles such as Brain Age and Big Brain Academy can improve memory.

The Times Online reports comments by cognitive psychology Prof. Alain Lieury (left) of the University of Rennes:

The Nintendo DS is a technological jewel. As a game it’s fine. But it is charlatanism to claim that it is a scientific test.

Lieury studied four goups of 10-year-old children as they worked on logic problems, memorization, math and interpreting symbols. Two of the groups which had completed a seven-week memory course using the DS did no better – and in some cases, worse – than those who did not use the DS.

While Ryuta Kawashima, the creator of Brain Age, claims positive effects from playing the game on Nintendo’s website, Lieury dismisses Japanese neuroscientist’s assertions:

There were few positive effects [shown in Lieury’s research] and they were weak. Dr Kawashima is one of a long list of dream merchants.

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  1. Arell says:

    I would take this more seriously if he did a study on adults, manybe 30-40, and ran the same tests.  Otherwise, I won’t accept or deny his findings.  The Brain Age game (yes, I call it a game) is intended for adults, no matter how many copies are bought for kids.  The point of the little practice games that it makes you do is to stimulate certain parts of your brain that the average couch potato doesn’t use, thus helping to keep your brain active so it doesn’t atrophy.  Brain atrophy is not a concern for 10 year olds.

  2. Hannah says:

    I haven’t played it in ages, but… I found that Brain Age actually did improve my math skills.  When I first started, I would often make mistakes — basic addition/subtraction/multiplication has always been a weakpoint of mine — but the more I practiced, the faster and more accurate I became.  Of course, practicing on a piece of paper would have had the same effect, but the DS makes math fun.

    I don’t know how useful such games would be for a 10-year-old, but for those of us who are above 20 and feeling a bit mentally rusty, they’re great.

  3. Wolvenmoon says:

    Well duh. These games are meant to boost confidence, not teach anything.

    Why not do something like, oh, release cartridges that teach various mathematical courses? (Rhetorical question, btw)

    It’s the difference between going for a walk, and DDR. Walking involves almost every muscle in the body at a constant rate, DDR…not so much. But both are technically ‘exercise’.

  4. GD86 says:

    I’m not sure how this wouldn’t help with certain mental practices. Solving problems of any sort make you start to work through of how to solve it making you a bit better at that way of thinking and eventually allowing your brain to handle some of the heavy lifting with out you actually thinking it out.

    It’s like those Sudoku books you start off at the easy level and as you you begin to figure out the logical steps to remove more and more possible numbers based on less and less hard information.

    It’s the same reason you got tons of different math problems of the same basic type to make you master the basic steps for solving that type of problem before that problem was integrated with another.

    So yes there may have not been any memory improvement since I’m not sure how important memory actually is to all of the problems, but to say there is no improvement strikes me as a bit harsh. It seems like a case of testing a cancer treatment to see if it can help hair growth and going “Well after a 6 week course of treatment the patient did not grow any more hair thus there is no positive effect.”

  5. ZippyDSMlee says:

    Paint me stupid(don’t plz I is stipd enough) but is it not for older epople to help grease the thought/thinking process?


    Gore,Violence,Sexauilty,Fear,Emotion these are but modes of transportation of story and thought, to take them from society you create a society of children and nannys, since adults are not required.

  6. Doomsong says:

    If you think about it, it’s really no different than most other studies on the positive effects/ negative effects of gaming that have already been done.. In most cases, researchers can claim to be as neutral as they want, but usually already have a specific answer they are searching for and fail to regard data that may not support their hypothesis. I would hope that researchers would want to be more responsible than that, but since I’m not directly in the head of any of them, I can only hope that they are.

    "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" – Benjamin Franklin

  7. hayabusa75 says:

    I found that strange as well…I would think that since children develop at different rates, the results would be more reliable if your age group was older.

    But I’m no psychologist, so what do I know?

    "There is no sin except stupidity." – Oscar Wilde

  8. DarkSaber says:

    As someone who worked in retail, regardless of what the adverts advertised (Nintendo IS trying to tap non-traditional market shares after all), most copies of Brain Training over christmas were being bought for children.


    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

  9. d20sapphire says:

    I was taken aback by that too.  Not that I don’t trust that the little ten year olds can’t do the work, but I think to test something that was meant for adults on children skews the results somewhat.  Especially easily distracted 10 year olds.  Does anyone know if the games you do on Brain Training are a higher level than 3rd grade?

  10. Nocturne says:

    Lieury studied four goups of 10-year-old children

    So he just ignored the part that says it’s only aimed at ages 20 and over then (according to Kawashima the age at which the brain stops developing), maybe he should have played more Brain Training, might have noticed that minor fact then. There’s a reason all the adverts Nintendo run for this on TV (at least here in the UK) show people in their 40’s and later playing it.

  11. hayabusa75 says:

    "What he is actually claiming therefore (surely) is that practice doesnt make you better."

    He’s not claiming that at all.  He’s saying that he found no evidence to support Nintendo’s claims about the DS being a highly effective learning tool.  Read the article and look at the results, next to last paragraph before the sample tests.

    "There is no sin except stupidity." – Oscar Wilde

  12. thenameless says:

    practice is practice….SURELY

    Actually, in no, in so much as the DS games don’t have you practice what they claim to improve. Despite what you heard practice does NOT make perfect; perfect (and deliberate) practice makes perfect and only at the specific thing that you are doing. The people in all your examples would only become better at the specific task you gave them; they would only become better at the *specific * logic problems, memorization, math and interpreting symbols that were given to them in the book game, tattooed monkey, a narrow path way is being improved upon but that doesn’t always translate to improved overall mental ability. Even then, significant improvement in those specific problems would only accurate if they were trying actively to improve at it merely doing something repeatedly does NOT make you great at it, it makes you good at doing whatever you doing at the level your practicing it improvement requires a deliberate effort to do so. Practicing done wrong could indeed result in a worsening of general ability i.e when faced with logical problem B your brain trained on the DS logic problem A keep trying to approach B as thought it were A, imperfect practice leads to imperfection.

  13. NovaBlack says:

    im confused…

    practice is practice….SURELY.


    if i spend a 7-week course practicing logic problems, memorization, math and interpreting symbols from a BOOK, ill improve my skills.

    if i spend a 7-week course practicing logic problems, memorization, math and interpreting symbols from a DS ill improve my skills.

    if i spend a 7-week course practicing logic problems, memorization, math and interpreting symbols from THE BACK OF A TATOOED MONKEY ill improve my skills.

    and this guy is saying that after 7 weeks of practice (doesnt matter what medium helped them practice), kids did the same , if not WORSE than kids that hadnt practiced?

    the fact its a DS shouldnt matter. If you learn your times tables, you learn your times tables. It doesnt matter wether you are reading from paper or an LCD screen. What he is actually claiming therefore (surely) is that practice doesnt make you better.


    err.. sorry but i just cant believe those results. Either a) they are just flat wrong, or b) there is a serious flaw with the study




    Finally.. even if the DS was exactly the same in terms of helping learingn, as pencil and paper methods, its missing the point. The DS helps overcome that larger obstacle. Motivation. Honestly would you as readily sit down to do an hour of sums on pen and paper as you would an hour ‘playing’ on brain training and the DS?

  14. Soldat_Louis says:

    Who cares ?

    First, French gamers like me, who will have to deal with local mainstream media (which is, in some ways, much worse than US mainstream media).

    Second, anti-game radicals who only need fodder, no matter the nationality of the one who provides it.

  15. Soldat_Louis says:

    It’s true that when I said "the industry", I was way too vague. After all, most game developers and publishers never jumped into this bandwagon. But I saw too many self-proclaimed "defenders of video games" who did so. And if Prof. Lieury is right, I’m afraid there will be a backlash from mainstream media, and we’re all gonna pay the price.

  16. DarkSaber says:

    Replace ‘industry’ with ‘Nintendo’ and I pretty much agree.


    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

  17. Soldat_Louis says:

    Well, you may not remember this story, but before being famous for "Brain Training" games, Ryuta Kawashima was the one who was quoted in the Observer article "Computer games can stunt teen brains", saying things like this :

    "The importance of this discovery cannot be underestimated (…) There is a problem we will have with a new generation of children – who play computer games – that we have never seen before. The implications are very serious for an increasingly violent society and these students will be doing more and more bad things if they are playing games and not doing other things like reading aloud or learning arithmetic."

    Note, though, that he later denied having said this quote in an interview to :

    "One extremely important point that I must tell you is that I never want to study effects of videogames on children’s brain activity. I just measured brain activity of ADULTS during videogame playing by brain imaging techniques, and say nothing on the effect on development of brain and its functions. I learned description on the interview with the Observer contains a lot of misunderstandings and shortcomings, when I have got thousands of threatening letters from gamers."

    Now, this being said, I don’t know who is right and who is wrong. After all, Dr. Kawashima and Prof. Lieury both have their share of controversy. But on the other hand, I’ve always been sick of this fad around "video games that make intelligent". Come on ! Brain Training might be a funny game, but it’s not the kind of products that made me a gamer. I mean, I don’t play video games to be more intelligent, and I don’t have to justify myself for choosing them as a key hobby in my life. This is why I never liked this "brain games" fad : it’s like the industry wanted to make video games useful and necessary at any cost.

  18. Boss Tont says:

    I think the point is that doing all the things in Brain Training does nothing for your overall intelect – it only makes you good at the things it makes you do.

    Remember that Brain Training is sold on the promise of ‘improving memory’ and making you more ‘mentally agile’, not better at the simple tasks it asks you endlessly repeat.

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