Let’s Talk About Brain Training. Using Portal 2.

Since it first became evident that playing video games was beneficial, there have been a great number of games and interactive media developed that claim to achieve a certain goal, or enhance a specific capability. One such game that you may have heard of is Lumosity – the brain training game, designed by neuroscientists

Recently, Lumosity has conducted research to back up its effectiveness at certain aspects of brain training, such as cognitive processing speed and problem solving skills (Hardy et al., 2015). This particular study compared a group of participants who played Lumosity for 10 weeks, with a group that completed crosswords for the same length of time, finding Lumosity to be greater in effectiveness than the other group, and therefore, effective at what it claims to achieve.

But what aspects of Lumosity is providing these benefits? Is it effective at enhancing these cognitive processes by virtue of its design, or is there something else that might be more beneficial? And what about other research (Granic et al., 2014) that provides evidence for video games in general to enhance a range of cognitive functions? Perhaps the ‘active ingredient’ in Lumosity might be the game like interactivity, meaning that there might be other games, not even designed for cognitive enhancement, which could be just as good.

A recent study has provided some of the answers to the above questions. In a randomised controlled trial of Lumosity compared with Portal 2, researchers (Shute, Ventura, & Ke, 2015) found Portal 2 to be significantly more effective than Lumosity in enhancing performance on each of the three composite cognitive measures: problem solving, spatial skills, and persistence. This research complements the growing body of literature examining the cognitive benefits that video game play affords. It is studies such as these that provide strong evidence to suggest that video games need not be designed specifically to enhance our wellbeing, or improve our skills. Of course, more studies are always needed, so we can examine the effects of different games, with different groups of people.

So next time you are working your way through Portal 2, trudging through Inside, or solving puzzles in The Witness, consider that you are not only having fun, but you are exercising your brain at the same time.

What games have you played that you think have resulted in enhanced cognitive skills, like problem solving, and persistence?


Granic, I., Lobel, A., & Engels, R. C. M. E. (2014). The benefits of playing video games. The American Psychologist, 69(1), 66-78.

Hardy, J.L., Nelson, R.A., Thomason, M.E., Sternberg, D.A., Katovich, K., Farzin, F., Scanlon, M. (2015). Enhancing cognitive abilities with comprehensive training: A large, online, randomized, active-controlled trial. PLoS ONE 10(9)

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