Do Brain Games Make You Smarter? What Does  Research Say?

Training apps to improve brain function and intelligence have a huge demand, but are they useful? (Image via Pexels/Meo)
Training apps to improve brain function and intelligence have a huge demand, but are they useful? (Image via Pexels/Meo)

Games and apps designed to help increase brain power have grown in popularity in recent years with benefits such as reducing age-related cognitive decline, removing mental fog, and increasing functional intelligence being promoted by the industry. Yet, most of the research that has been conducted on the effectiveness of training games or exercises illustrates mixed results at best.

We are interested in activities that increase our intelligence and competence at different tasks, and companies and organizations have capitalized on this to create brain training apps, games, and exercises.


However, most of these claims range from highly exaggerated to outright false information. Research that did show improvements in intelligence as a result of these brain games were often flawed or influenced by other factors like the placebo effect.

Those who believed that their intelligence was going to improve as a result of the training from the games were more likely to receive the benefits advertised by the companies.

This points to the placebo effect influencing the results more than the actual training received from the brain game. Other factors like strategic thinking, motivation, and concentration are also responsible for higher scores than the brain game itself.

Even when these brain games result in positive improvements in an individual's performance in that particular game, it has very little carry-over effect into similar tasks. This means that even when individuals record improvements in the brain game, the improvement in performance is only restricted to the game.

How Can We Improve Our Brain Perfromance?

If the brain games that were designed by so-called neuroscientists aren't capable of increasing intelligence, is all hope lost and do we have to be satisfied with our current intelligence? According to research, intelligence can be increased through our effort.

Generally speaking, there are two types of intelligences: crystallized intelligence and fluid intelligence. The former increases as we grow, complete an education, and gain in experience. It consists of vocabulary, knowledge, and skills.The latter refers to an individual's ability to think abstractly and reason.

The study shows that fluid intelligence can be trained, the increase in intelligence is dependent on the effort made, and anyone is capable of increasing their intelligence. Significantly, unlike the improvements received from brain games, improvements are evident in tasks that don't resemble the test questions.

Here are some factors that can aid in enhancing both kinds of intelligences.

1. New Experiences

Based on the data collected on IQ, the personality trait most associated with high scores is openness to new experiences. With such an outlook, acquiring new information, material to learn, and ativities to engage in become easier.

The reason why it is effective is increasing intelligence is that unprecedented conditions trigger the brain and prime it for learning. These experiences also spike dopamine in the body, which increases motivation as well as creates of new neuronal pathways for learning. Activities like reading books, taking an art class, and learning to play an instrument are all effective.

2. Facing Challenges Positively

Pushing yourself to overcome your physical, mental, and cognitive limits often results in positive outcomes. This is evident in physical training as well as mental training, however the key is to keep striving to do more.

Our body and brain can get used to a stimulus quite quickly and become efficient at responding to it. Once the brain becomes efficient at a particular task or exercise, cognitive energy and brain activity decreases.

To increase intelligence, we must strive toward performing challenging mental activities and be in a state of intentional discomfort in order to make new neural connections and stimulate cogitive growth. This involves small activities like typing without autocorrect and turning off the GPS when driving to activities like journaling, learning new skills, solving puzzles, and practicing mindfulness.

3. Thinking Creativity

This method of improving brain function involves divergent thinking about a wide variety of topics, generating new ideas, creating remote associations between ideas, and practicing unconventional thinking. This involves using both hemispheres of the brain while thinking.

4. Socializing

Socializing or networking either face to face or through social media exposes us to situations where we can practice the above steps in order to increase brain function. Interacting with others provides us with opportunities for cognitive growth and seeing things from a different perspective, which is crucial for brain growth.


Apart from these approaches, there are certain activities, habits, and behaviors that we can follow to boost our brain function. Staying physically active through regular exercise and movement is a great way to improve brain function, according to research conducted. The activity does not need to be vigorous in nature to reap benefits for the brain.

Focusing on getting adequate sleep on a regular basis ensures that our brains remain well rested, which prevents cognitive decline and enhances our ability to process information. Meditation based on research conducted helps us deal with our anxieties and improves working memory, executive functioning, and attention.

Certain beverages like coffee and green tea have been shown to stimulate the brain, reduce fatigue, increase focus, and facilitate the functioning of neurons that allow us to complete cognitive tasks and learn new things.

A nutritious diet including foods containing omega three fatty acids (nuts, fish), flavonoids (soybeans, berries), and vitamin K (spinach, kale) have all been shown to be beneficial for improving brain function, according to multiple studies.

So while brain games, according to research, are not capable of following through on their many promises, that does not mean that they are completely useless. They can be used as a form of entertainment or as a way to keep challenging yourself.

If you are interested in improving brain function and intelligence, keep challenging yourself, take charge of new situations, socialize, and think creatively when you need to solve problems.

Steve George Verghese is a trained psychologist with an MSc in Counseling Psychology from the Indian Institute of Psychology and Research.

Poll : Do you use brain games?



14 votes

Edited by Ramaa Kishore
Be the first one to comment