Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Lumosity.com... and crack

Lumosity.com did a lot of advertising online a few months back, and after watching many of their ads I decided to go see how they worked.

Lumosity is a service that claims it will improve your brain by doing targeted exercises that "feel like games."  Of course the exercises feel like games because they are games.  If you wanted to get more physical exercise and joined a basketball league you wouldn't say that you are getting exercise but it "feels like a game."

As one might expect, there is a free account and a premium account.  The premium account gives you a wider range of games, a better ability to select between the kinds of games you want to play, and more games per day.  There are apparently other features to better benchmark your gains, but I can't really speak to those since there was no way I was ever paying.

First of all, let's talk about whether these were good games.  I think I played about ten different games, though its a little blurry in my head.  I played a memory game where you have to remember whether marks were in a grid; a game where you have to click the location that a bird appeared on the screen with distractions; a maze game where the maze and your controls rotate regularly; a game where you have limited time to come with up as many words as you can starting with certain letters.  If you've played a lot of small puzzle games or browser games or facebook games all the games on Lumosity will probably be familiar or at least follow familiar themes.

There is another question, though, and that is whether Lumosity really is serious training for your brain based on science.  I think the answer is yes and no.  The idea that we needed neurology to tell use that play word games keeps your mind active is pretty bogus.  The idea that it is a scientific breakthrough that practicing things makes you better at them is ridiculous.  Furthermore, the claim that these particular games will allow you transfer the game-skills to real-life-skills better than others seems dubious.  I would be very surprised if that was backed by any kind of science, especially since legitimate scientific proof of that would probably take a decade to produce.

So while I think their claims are outright deception, I also thing they are essentially true.  If you play hidden-object games on your computer your ability to spot things will probably improve.  If you play twitch-reflex games on your computer then your hand-eye coordination and response times will probably improve.  If you play memory video games on your computer your memory will probably improve.  One day the elevator I was on malfunctioned and forgot which floors everyone was going to.  I was able to press all of those buttons from memory simply because I had looked at the panel when they were lit up: thanks video games!

Lumosity has a benchmarking system where it tells you how well you've done.  For many games this system is rigged so that your performance must improve dramatically in the short term.  For example, a game will let you play eight levels a day.  You start at level one and continue where you left off from last time.  As a result even if you play perfectly on day one you only get to level eight which is a pretty weak result.  It's very hard to conceive you won't improve drastically quite quickly.

Other games effectively hard reset every day.  My benchmark on the game equivalent of remembering the elevator buttons was three standard devations up from day one - who knew?

I think I did enjoy playing the games, though they didn't have a huge amount of replayability - a bit of a minus for something you are expected to do every day.  If you are looking to play some pointless, quick games then you could go to worse places for them than Lumosity.  Having it choose the games for you can be seen as a plus as well.  It's like facing random encounters.  Still, it didn't hold my interest for two weeks, and I am sure there are better ways to practice thinking by playing games.

Also, I feel it is my time to inject a bit of commentary on my mayor who has drawn a bit of international attention because of a tape of him smoking crack and his denials of smoking crack and his admission to smoking crack.  Basically by the end of his first year of being mayor he had already revealed himself to be a buffoon and burned his allies on city council.  As a result council has been running the city despite him, rather than with him, for nearly two years now.  Recent revelations will give council reason to curb his powers and ignore him to an even greater extent.  Because of this, things will probably go fine in the city for the next year.  Then, because things went fine - and barring any murder or child sex related revelations - he will be re-elected.  I'm placing my bet now, this is democracy in action.

4 comments:

  1. there's been some recent research about the falsity of lumosity's claims. wish i could remember where i read it. multiple sources.

    and i didn't know you were from tronno.

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    1. Does having a mayor on tape smoking crack really narrow it down that much?

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  2. As somebody famous once said, the only real issue for a male politician is being caught in bed with a dead woman or a live man. Sad that it is still true to some extent. I bet if Ford were to be outed as gay his popularity would drop like the proverbial stone. No murder *needs* to be involved.

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    1. Fair enough, but I don't think he is gay. Of course I could be wrong - he might stay away from pride to avoid temptation.

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