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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Your brain is not a muscle

Brain training doesn’t work because your brain isn’t a muscle, writes James Thompson on the Unz Review. Improving working memory doesn’t transfer to other skills.

Research studies have found that “the evidence that training with commercial brain-training software can enhance cognition outside the laboratory is limited and inconsistent” and that there’s “no evidence of a causal relationship between playing video games and enhanced cognitive ability.”

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Persuading people that they can strengthen their brain — building a growth mindset — does not improve academic achievement, writes Thompson, who cites evidence of “small or null effects.”

As for schools’ attempts to teach “grit,” Thompson concludes that “persevering is good, but training people to persevere? Nothing in it.”

Advice to “practice, practice, practice” may help the talented, but “could be a great time-waster for those who lack talent,” writes Thompson, again citing research.

Research on the “bilingual advantage,” the idea that speaking two languages provides cognitive benefits, suffers from “publication bias,” he writes. Positive effects are published; null effects are ignored. “Indeed, a recent, large-scale meta-analysis showed no evidence for the bilingual advantage in any executive functioning domain after correcting for publication bias.” 

Ineffective interventions have high opportunity costs, Thompson concludes. That time and money could be spent on effective teaching and learning strategies.

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