FTC Says Lumosity “Brain Training” Games Not Backed by Science
But do they still work?
No one wants to spend an hour looking for their keys, or worse, develop Alzheimer’s later in life. The prospect of exercising the brain to ensure its health was the concept behind Lumosity, a “brain training” app that uses various games that supposedly puts your gray matter on a treadmill.
But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said Lumosity’s claims that its games were designed by neuroscientists and were scientifically proven to ward off Alzheimer’s were nothing but rubbish, and Lumos Labs, Lumosity’s maker, can no longer make those claims. 
Lumosity “preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement. “But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads,” Vox reports. 
Lumosity, which launched in 2007, offers more than 50 games designed to improve cognitive skills like attention and memory. Some of the games are free, while the full package can be played either online or via mobile apps for $5 to $15 a month.
An aggressive marketing campaign promising the games could improve grades and athletic performance made Lumosity the most famous of the many brain-training programs available.
The problem was that none of those claims could be backed up by science, according to the FTC.
The government alleged in its complaint that Lumos Ads misled consumers with false or deceptive advertising, and that the company didn’t disclose that, in a sense, it paid for its testimonials through a contest that offered winners iPads, lifetime subscriptions to Lumosity, and a free trip to San Francisco.
Lumos Labs and its employees and representatives can no longer claim that Lumosity can help users boost their academic or athletic performance or prevent dementia and other cognitive disorders like ADHD or PTSD until the company can back those claims with “competent and reliable scientific evidence.”
In Lumosity’s case, “competent and reliable scientific evidence” refers to clinical testing performed by qualified scientists with adequate controls “considered in light of the entire body of relevant and reliable scientific evidence.”
Additionally, under the agreement, Lumos Labs said it would pay the FTC $50 million, but the company doesn’t have that much money, so a district court ruled that it will only have to pay $2 million.
Lumos will also have to notify customers who signed up for auto-renewal subscriptions between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2014, about the FTC’s complaint and provide them the opportunity to cancel their subscriptions.
“The recent peer-reviewed clinical test published in the journal PLOS One is a large, randomized, active-controlled trial of our cognitive training program. The study reported that participants who trained with Lumosity for 10 weeks improved on an aggregate assessment of cognition. Going forward, a key focus of our ongoing research is to build on these studies to better understand how training-driven improvements on tests of cognition translate to performance in participants’ everyday lives.”
There’s actually very little evidence that brain training games truly exercise the mind. A group of 70 researchers said in 2014 that it’s all a bunch of a baloney.
“To date, there is little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life,” they wrote.
But even with the FTC ruling, it does not mean that brain-training games are not effective to do not work – especially if you consider placebo. Though the claims are reportedly backed by no science, the training likely can’t hurt.
Though while there is still consensus to be made on the brain-training front, we do have evidence which shows exercise to be effective at keeping the brain healthy, so go for a walk or hit the gym if you’re concerned about losing your faculties.
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.