Brain Training


Brain training aims to enhance cognitive processes such as perception, motor control, memory and decision‐making. Emerging research demonstrates that such cognitive processes can be trained, leading to improvements in everyday functioning that depend on these processes. As such, brain training is a rich and exciting field that delves into the limits of the human brain and has potential to benefit everyone's lives. However, while brain training shows promise, it has also sparked controversy as results are mixed across studies, and because findings are often sensationalised with an increasing number of commercial brain‐training products. The field is active and evolving and has the potential to overcome these issues as research clarifies what techniques show the most promise and uncovers the ingredients that most consistently lead to real‐world benefits.

Key Concepts

  • Brain training aims at improving the function of one or more cognitive processes.
  • Cognitive processes include perceptual abilities, motor learning, memory and executive function.
  • Nearly all populations, healthy or impaired, could benefit from effective brain‐training interventions.
  • The ultimate goal of brain training is to generalise beyond the training context to benefit everyday functioning.
  • The evidence supporting effectiveness of brain training is mixed, and findings are actively debated.
  • Brain training is an interesting field that will likely improve in the future as research uncovers which techniques show most promise, and for whom.

Keywords: brain training; cognitive training; transfer of learning; mental fitness; self‐improvement

Figure 1. (a) Screenshot of vision training game (ULTIMEYES) where participants select the targets (called Gabor patterns) and ignore the distractors. Reprinted from Deveau J, Ozer DJ and Seitz AR (2014) Improved vision and on‐field performance in baseball through perceptual learning. Current Biology24 (4): R146–R147 with permission from Elsevier. (b) Example for a two‐back level in a standard n‐back task. (c) Example for a two‐back level in a gamified n‐back task (recall the Game). (b,c) Reprinted by permission from Springer. Mohammed S, Flores L, Deveau J, et al. (2017) The benefits and challenges of implementing motivational features to boost cognitive training outcome. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement1 (4): 491–507. (d) Screenshot of executive function training game (NeuroRacer); sign and drive represents the multitasking condition. Reprinted by permission of Springer. Anguera JA, Boccanfuso J, Rintoul JL, et al. (2013) Video game training enhances cognitive control in older adults. Nature501 (7465): 97–101.


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Further Reading

Barnett SM and Ceci SJ (2002) When and where do we apply what we learn?: a taxonomy for far transfer. Psychological bulletin 128 (4): 612.

Deveau J, Jaeggi SM, Zordan V, Phung C and Seitz AR (2015) How to build better memory training games. Frontiers in systems neuroscience 8: 243.

Green CS and Bavelier D (2015) Action video game training for cognitive enhancement. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 4: 103–108.

Green CS and Seitz AR (2015) The impacts of video games on cognition (and how the government can guide the industry). Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2 (1): 101–110.

Jaušovec N and Pahor A (2017) Increasing Intelligence. London: Elsevier Academic Press.

Jonides J, Jaeggi SM, Buschkuehl M and Shah P (2012) Building better brains. Scientific American Mind 23 (4): 59–63.

Merzenich MM, Van Vleet TM and Nahum M (2014) Brain plasticity‐based therapeutics. Frontiers in human neuroscience 8: 385.

Mishra J, Anguera JA and Gazzaley A (2016b) Video games for neuro‐cognitive optimization. Neuron 90 (2): 214–218.

Strobach T and Karbach J (2016) Cognitive Training: An Overview of Features and Applications. New York: Springer.

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Pahor, Anja, Jaeggi, Susanne M, and Seitz, Aaron R(May 2018) Brain Training. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0028037]