This experiment asked if brain training actually works. But we also wanted to look at how effective different kinds of brain training might be, so our trainers were randomly allocated to three different groups. Two were brain training groups – one with ‘Reasoning’ tasks, the other with ‘Non-reasoning’. The third group was the ‘Control’.
Reasoning brain training tasks mostly involve planning, problem-solving and analysis. Brain trainers can’t just try harder if they want to improve, they need to develop mental strategies. In this group, the training tasks got harder as the trainers’ performance improved. Reasoning training tasks were designed to continuously challenge mental performance and therefore maximise any benefits of training.
All these tasks activate the frontal lobes of your brain, areas essential to reasoning and problem-solving.
Reasoning: In Loop the Loop, you have to keep looking ahead to ensure that the move you make now won’t hinder your progress later on. To get better at it, you need to develop strategies.
Reasoning: Slider is another task in which every move you make affects your subsequent moves. You must work out strategies and plan ahead to solve the puzzles.
Reasoning: In Crates, you must assess how each move will affect the overall solution and refine your strategy by looking at the relationship between the shapes and establishing patterns.
Reasoning: See-saw involves a different type of reasoning to the other tasks in this group. You need to establish the relationships between the objects rather than focus on their individual properties.
Reasoning: In Pick and Mix, every move you make affects subsequent moves. Some moves can be fatal, unless you retrace your steps and undo that critical bad move.
Reasoning: Flower Finder is a logical reasoning task where you identify the odd one out. Work out the relationships between the flowers to establish which one doesn’t follow the rule.
Non-reasoning brain training tasks mostly involve short-term memory, attention to detail, maths and interpreting visual information. They are similar to tasks commonly found in commercially available brain training. In this group, the training tasks also got harder as the trainers’ performance improved. Non-reasoning training tasks were designed to continuously challenge mental performance and therefore maximise any benefits of training.
Non-reasoning: This task involves simple maths. In many cases, the sums can be solved by using your long-term memory. For example, you may simply remember that 7x7 = 49, rather than actually working it out.
Rough mathematical calculations like these involve the parietal lobe of the brain.
Non-reasoning: Airport Security involves concentration, counting, memory and simple maths as you try to keep track of the suitcases entering and leaving the scanner.
This task is likely to use your brain’s parietal lobe for concentration and simple maths and your temporal lobe for memory.
Non-reasoning: Pairs is a classic memory task. It is possible to use strategies to improve your performance, but most people simply try to cram as much information into their memory as possible.
This task uses the temporal lobe and hippocampus, two areas of your brain essential for memory.
Non-reasoning: Jigsaw is a task that tests your ability to process visual information. You need good pattern perception and visual matching to fit the pieces together correctly.
This task is likely to use the parietal lobe, visual cortex and temporal lobe of your brain.
Non-reasoning: Low to High is a visual search task that involves some counting.
You use your parietal lobe for this task.
Non-reasoning: Whack a Jack involves visual search and simple matching abilities.
This task is likely to activate your parietal lobe.
The Control group tasks did not involve any actual brain training. Instead, trainers performed tasks that required spending roughly the same amount of time using a computer and accessing the internet as the Reasoning and Non-reasoning brain training groups.
Find out more about the Control group in Brain Test Britain experiment design
BBC Lab UK is a website where you can take part in real science experiments.