|Image taken from Lumosity's Twitter Page|
|Image from Legendary Collegian|
My Brain Will Outsmart Your Brain!
|Beautiful artwork by Allegator at Deviant Art which depicts Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes from the BBC series Sherlock. In the series, as well as the films and the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock is a master of using the memory systems.|
Ways to Exercise Your Brain
Mental training isn't just about playing games, but rather about giving yourself new challenges and constantly pushing your mind to work a little bit harder than normal. Video games, brain training software, playing games with friends, learning and playing musical instruments, drawing and painting, doing math problems and puzzles, and various forms of meditation all count as mental exercise (when done properly and not overdone). Also, learning about and using the various memory techniques is helpful for all areas of mental exercise. I'm by no means the expert on this topic, but I have tried a lot of programs and such over the years so I have a good idea of what works for me. Outside of Lumosity, here are some of my suggestions for brain training websites (most of which are free!) for anyone who wants to find things to add to their own mental exercise regimen:
My current favorite for mental exercise is the website Cerego. The program is based on adaptive learning to help a user improve their memorization of material that's available on the site. Much like working with flash cards, the user can pick a set of information that will offer associations of text, images, or audio and then test their knowledge of those associations. What's great about the site is that the learning process knows what you do well and what you need to work on and schedules your next test of the material based on what needs the most work. There are sets including everything from famous works of art, classic books, general physics, symbols of the chemical elements, and more. A user can create their own sets for their private use (for instance, I have one set that I use to memorize the names and faces of people across campus) and a user can also create content for public use (I now have two sets that I've made public, one for Introductory Geology and one for Geobiology).
Khan Academy is awesome! The website has all kinds of stuff you can learn, from general science to computer programming. The part of the website I use everyday and enjoy the most is the World of Math. Each day I can work through anything from a couple up to thirty or so math problems that range from elementary school math up to calculus and differential equations. The content is fantastic!
This is a program that lets you challenge your vocabulary through multiple choice questions, crosswords, and more. Word Dynamo is a great way to build your vocabulary, which can make you a better speaker and writer.
Co-developed by Ed Cooke, a world champion of memory, Memrise is much like Cerego, where you can work through sets of associations for information and the site is built to help you work on the information that you have the hardest time with
A few others include Code Academy, Coursera, Duolingo, Fit Brains (this one isn't free and there's not much you can do for free before they want money), and Brilliant (which I just discovered and which has a lot of great math work for those who love math).
So go out there and work on your brain, but definitely let me tell you why I think Lumosity was awesome and why I won't be using it anymore.
|Image can be found here|
Is Lumosity Really Worth $120 Per Year?
If you have the money and you will definitely use the site at least several times each week, then 'yes'. If you would likely spend $120 in the year on more video games or puzzle books and such, then it's definitely worth it to give Lumosity a try and skip the other stuff for a year. But, in my opinion, Lumosity is really only good for one year. After that, it loses its worth (and that worth is definitely already subjective; see below). And, if you don't really have the money, then don't do it. There are a lot of other things that you could spend $120 on.
Okay, so here's my take on Lumosity: there is definitely research out there to support brain training, but not so much as to make a strong claim that everyone will benefit from using Lumosity or that you will definitely improve your mental flexibility by using Lumosity. Furthermore, with all of the cost-free or minimal-cost stuff that you can do to train your brain, it makes it hard to justify spending money on Lumosity.
Also, there are definitely people out there with very strong messages against using Lumosity. For instance, in this Gizmodo article titled "Lumosity's Brain Games are Bullshit", the author definitely makes her bold claim against Lumosity, but she also has some very valid points. There is no consensus amongst scientists and researchers who study neuroscience that claims that brain training sites like Lumosity work as well as their developers like to claim (here are articles from the Guardian and from AAAS which detail some of the arguments), and there are definitely huge ranges of support or opposition from the general public (here's the Quora page for Lumosity).
Lumosity and other brain training sites definitely sell their programs as being beneficial, for instance here's the controversial article from Lumos Labs titled "The Science Behind Lumosity" that details their proposed supportive research. They can point to various pieces of research that appear to show the benefit of brain training, and, now that these sites have been operating for quite some time, they can point to research that shows potential benefits of using their software. For instance, this article in Clinical Breast Cancer shows that using a computer-based mental training regimen with a program like Lumosity's may improve the quality of life of breast cancer survivors who were treated with chemotherapy by aiding in maintenance of executive functions (like working memory and attention). When it comes down to it, there's some research out there to support the use of brain training sites like Lumosity, but not really so much that it justifies spending $120 each year on the site. Especially since there are so many free things you can do to exercise your brain.
I definitely won't try to sell you on using Lumosity. I've used the site now for 2 full years and have had a great time playing the games, but I know that Lumosity is no longer worth the money for me.
Speed Match Overdrive
This is a game where you are presented with a card that has a certain shape and color. Once you start, that first card will be flipped and a new card will be presented. It's up to you to decide if the new card has the same shape and color on it, if only the shape or the color are the same, or if neither are the same. Sounds pretty simply, but to do it quickly really makes your mind work. This game is awesome! However, Lumosity doesn't like to include it in their normal training settings (you have to change to student or advanced settings or you have to select the game yourself).
Memory games are some of my favorite. Memory Matrix is a game where you are presented with a grid of squares (the size of the grid depends on how well you do in the game). At the beginning of each turn, some number of the squares (or tiles) will be highlighted momentarily and then disappear. You job is to then remember which tiles were highlighted and click them. This is a classic way of testing your working memory. There are various ideas about how our memory works, but one of the most accepted is that you have an immediate memory from your senses, you then have a working memory (basically what your mind has just processed and can actively recall immediately), and then there's your long term memory. Since around the time of the work of George Miller and onward, it's been known that on average we can only store a small number of distinct items in our working memory at any given time. Improving your working memory is about finding ways of chunking certain bits of information together so that they make one discrete item and are thus easier to remember. Memory Matrix is all about chunking. You eventually get used to certain arrangements of multiple tiles that can easily be remembered together and then you get better. At this point, I see various shapes as unique and I also let my mind make imaginary figures out certain arrangements of tiles.
This is one of my favorite games, but it's also one that Lumosity really needs to improve. We should all know that restaurant servers get a good deal of mental training on the job by testing their short term memories (the best servers don't need to write anything down, right?!). This game makes you the server in various restaurant settings, with a bit of bustling noise in the background, and then presents you with customers. Your job is to remember who they (pairing names and faces) and to remember what they order before it comes out (by pairing the right meals with the right people). The game is a lot of fun for training your working memory and your facial recognition, but it doesn't take very long to get to the highest possible scores and the game never really becomes challenging enough to make it really worthwhile.
Lost in Migration
This is a fun one. You're presented with a flock of birds which will be facing in a certain direction. Your job is to quickly identify whether the center bird is facing the same direction as the flock or in a different direction. The game becomes more challenging the faster you push yourself to answer. It's based on the "flanker" task developed by Charles Eriksen in 1974.
Word Bubbles and Word Bubbles Rising
I love challenging my use of language and vocabulary. These two games are the only games on Lumosity that offer such challenges. To do well at these games, you have to be able to develop words given only a small string of letters that start the words. It's a lot of fun (and will make you better at games like Scrabble). During the last two years, I contacted Lumosity twice to ask for more games that worked with vocabulary or language. These two are still the only ones they offer.
As you can see, I spent a lot of time playing Lumosity's games. I tried my best to play the five games they suggest as part of the training each morning. I stacked up pretty well for my age group (compared to other users of the site):
And, interestingly, of all the people who listed their career types on Lumosity, my best training games were most similar to those of Mathematicians. Other similar people also worked in Education, Computer Science, Engineering, Finance, and Scientific Research. (BTW, I had listed my professional occupation as Education). The most dissimilar from me were Military and Culinary Arts.
Why I'm No Longer Going to Use Lumosity
It's been a fun two years, but once my subscription comes to an end in the next couple of weeks, I'm not going to continue using Lumosity. The time has most definitely come, and here's why:
As I mentioned above, I think it justifiable to pay the $120 for a year of Lumosity (as long as you actually use it). It's a lot of money to pay in one shot, but if you buy two new video games in a year it'll cost about the same. I love video games, but I like to make my brain work in lots of various ways so it's nice to cut back on video games and add in other things to keep my mind active. Even though I find that $120 a good deal, I really think it was only good for the first year. I've still been using Lumosity almost every day, but they are very slow at adding new content and so the site can become a bit boring pretty quickly. The only way to keep the site challenging was to alter the training settings every week or so, that way I'd get some different games once in a while. Even though Lumosity likes to talk about how they have over 40 games to play, they really only offer a small subset of those games for each training setting (you can still access all of the games, but it would be nice to have them all come up every now and then in the daily training). Since there's not enough change in the site, I don't think it's worth the money anymore. I'll spend that $120 somewhere else this year.
Finally, my suggestion for Lumosity or other sites like it (like Elevate or Fit Brains) is to change up their games far more often. Lumosity could be a lot more fun and a lot more challenging (and far more worth the cost) if they had a better rate of product development. Lumosity was a great idea and has made a good deal of money offering a great service, but the daily users who pay top dollar for the site deserve the product they paid for. In the case of Lumosity, the users are paying for a brain training program that offers continual challenge and, sadly, Lumosity doesn't offer a continual challenge after the first year.
As I bring this long post to a close, I have to say that I really enjoyed Lumosity and I hope they do well in the future. Maybe in a few years I'll check back and see what they've got going on, but my mental exercise regimen needs variation in order to keep my mind flexible.
So long Lumosity, and thanks for all the fish.
|Rêverie by SM Craig|