Science of Brain Training Creates Inconvenient Facts

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 04, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Dr. Henry Mahncke, the CEO of Posit Science—the provider of brain exercises backed by the most peer-reviewed papers in the industry—responded today to a new critique of brain training published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

“While our company was treated relatively well compared to what was said about others in the industry, I am obligated to respond,” Dr. Mahncke said. “After all, the scientific foundation for turning the discovery of lifelong plasticity into products that can help people has largely been laid by scientists at Posit Science and our academic colleagues from around the world.”

“The critics in this latest review begin with century-old experiments and theories on the failure of traditional cognitive training to drive benefits that extend beyond the task trained,” Dr. Mahncke continued. “They pretty much say that no brain training can ever drive benefits that generalize beyond the task trained, because that would not fit their theory.”

“Normally, scientists adjust their theories to fit new facts, but sometimes it is hard for the old guard to give up outdated theories,” he added. “In this instance, they find stacks of peer-reviewed papers produced over the past 15 years by hundreds of scientists to be irremediably flawed.”

In a blog post at Dr. Mahncke digs into how and why the scientific community has split, as an old paradigm fails and a new one replaces it. He also notes that every scientific study has its limitations and can be easily critiqued. However, he points out that this is why it usually takes many studies to change consensus—because you have to look across studies to draw conclusions that fill in gaps in individual studies. “Rather than looking at the forest, these authors want to describe why you should ignore each tree,” Dr. Mahncke notes.

He describes this academic brouhaha as a “disciplinary boundary dispute,” noting that the relatively new field of neuroscience is “disruptive” to old school cognitive psychology, because it keeps producing “inconvenient facts” about how the brain actually functions, which conflict with old theoretical models.

“What we and many other scientists have shown is that you can improve the function and health of the brain, including memory, with a bottom-up approach that focuses on the speed and accuracy of sensory perception,” Dr. Mahncke says. “Improving the operation of the brain’s systems, at the most elemental level, generalizes to improvements beyond the task trained—to improvements on standard assessments, changes in operation of the brain as shown by brain imaging, and in real-world activities.”

“It’s a shame that old school psychology and modern neuroscience seem to be talking past each other,” Dr. Mahncke says. “It would be best if all scientists focused on what the data shows, and on how theories may need to change to actually use science for its highest purpose: improving the human condition.”

For additional information, contact: Jeff Zimman

Source: Posit Science