Cognitive Improvement - Does it work?

Although wisdom may come with age, our brains don't get any faster. Many areas of cognitive function decline over time: attention wavers, processing speed decreases, memory starts to crumble. 

All kinds of methods for fighting back against this brain-wide slow-down have been suggested. There is training with computer programs, popping pills, taking nutritional supplements, meditating or even getting some more exercise.

Jeremy Dean of PsyBlog, a researcher at University College London, breaks down the research behind the cognitive improvement. What's his final verdict?

Brain-training software/games:

Verdict: Evidence for the benefits of cognitive training for everyday functioning is still very limited. Brain training software currently available is mostly 'inspired by science' rather than based on it. Treat marketers' claims with extreme scepticism. Side-effects are probably limited to repetitive strain injury and a depleted wallet.


Verdict: Amongst the chemical cognitive enhancers Modafinil is currently fashionable for grown-ups. But is it really that much better than caffeine? This study and this study suggest that in warding off sleep Modafinil is no more effective than caffeine - and caffeine is legal and readily available. Probably better to stick to tea or coffee.

Nutritional Supplements:

Verdict: Unproven, but probably not dangerous as long as you're not exceeding the recommended daily allowances. On the downside supplements can be costly.


Verdict: Meditation still has to be considered unproven as a cognitive enhancer but it probably won't do you any harm, plus it's free.


Verdict: The evidence for exercise boosting cognitive function is head-and-shoulders above that for brain training, drugs, nutritional supplements and meditation. Scientifically, on the current evidence, exercise is the best way to enhance your cognitive function. And as for its side-effects: yes there is the chance of an injury but exercise can also reduce weight, lower the chance of dementia, improve mood and lead to a longer life-span. Damn those side-effects!

Read the full article here

Jeremy Dean


Jeremy Dean's PsyBlog is about scientific research into how the mind works. The studies he covers have been published in reputable academic journals in many different areas of psychology.

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