It’s 2021 and I figured it was about damn time to do some self, health, wealth improvements. It was bumpy, honestly, but I’m back in the swing of things. And to get back on track, I did what any other normal person looking to shortcut their goals would do, and downloaded an app or three.
We’ve all seen (and skipped) those Lumosity ads or the ones for Noom, but do they work? Can an app really make us sharper, funnier, or math wizards? I tried out a few of the Apple Store’s top-rated brain training games to find out which one was going to turn me into a super-genius… or at least close enough to it.
Do These Apps Have Any Science Behind Them?
In short, it’s a mess. Two studies published in 2014 offered differing opinions on the effectiveness of brain-training apps.
The Stanford Center on Longevity wrote, “there is little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life.”
The Cognitive Training Data team concluded, “a substantial and growing body of evidence shows that certain cognitive training regimens can significantly improve cognitive function, including in ways that generalize to everyday life.”
There has substantial evidence linking these brain-training apps to mild short-term improvements in cognitive ability. Although these apps may help you hit an all-time record in the memory recall games, it’s a fuzzy ground to stand on.
Tara Smart, Ph.D., M.D tells SingleCare, “there is equivocal evidence that brain-boosting apps such as Lumosity produce significant brain changes associated with learning or plasticity,” she says “Longitudinal studies would show whether these correlate to real-world changes in cognitive ability or executive functions.” Meaning, while Lumosity might train you to excel at the games in the app, it’s unproven if those benefits translate to improved focus at school or at work.”
So, maybe they work and maybe they don’t but regardless, I wanted to try out these mental gyms to see what kind of content they produce.
Elevate is surely on another level. As the winner of the 2014 Apple App of the Year, it was exciting to test it out. Their design was sleek, modern and readable and came with 35+ sets of games. All of Elevate’s games aimed to improve user’s writing, reading, speaking and math skills.
With the 14-day free trial account, you get access to daily training sessions with three different games. After your trial, Elevate offers an upgrade to the premium account for $4.99/month or $39.99/annually.
Elevate is available for download on iOS and Android. Elevate was my favorite brain-training app because it had an adult-feel which made me think I was ~actually~ doing mental push-ups.
Pros: refined design, game variety, game speed, performance tracking methods
Cons: no online program, hefty annual cost, short trial period
Considered the Founding Father of brain-sharpening apps, Lumosity currently has over 85 million users worldwide and the marketing skills of a failing mattress store. Lumosity boasts 50 vibrant, colorful and user-friendly mini-games which focus on improving subject areas like speed, attention, memory, flexibility, problem-solving, word and math.
According to their website, Lumosity games are created with the help of over 100 researchers from around the world. Researchers even completed a study that showed a higher increase in brain function from using Lumosity than doing crossword puzzles.
Lumosity allows users to pick the subject areas they want to work on and “personalize” their experience based on preference and even ranks you amongst other users in your age group which, is unnecessary unless you need an ego-boost. Coming in at $11.99/month or $59.99/annually for the premium upgrade, Lumosity talks a big talk but only kinda walks the walk.
Pros: international recognition, game variety (to an extent), online program, six daily games
Cons: heftier annual payment, child-like interface, user comparison, repetitive games if used every day
There are just three words for this app: confusing & very confusing. Unlike Elevate or Lumosity, Blackbox is a mysterious puzzle game with no progress tracking methods, fun celebrations or target-oriented games.
With a sassy interface, red and black color scheme and brain-busting puzzles that start off hard and just get harder, Blackbox is quickly climbing the App Store charts. It’s a tricky SOB to figure out but really tested my aptitude and wit.
Blackbox is free to download at the app store but is only available on iOS devices. There are also no paid premium account packages for purchase. While you don’t get any targeted games that might increase attention or quick math skills, I think their tagline, “Think You’re Clever” really gets at the heart of what this app is getting at.
Pros: challenging, free, extremely rewarding, mature interface
Cons: only downloadable on iPhone, no targeted exercises, really challenging
Am I Now a Super Genius?
Short answer: no. Long answer: maybe? After reading a handful of studies on these brain-training apps and their effectiveness, I’m skeptical of how much my brain is growing. Regardless of the back and forth on these apps, they are fun to experiment with and play with when you’re bored. Maybe next year I’ll stop short-cutting my resolutions and pick up a book or two!
By Keely Cohen-Breen