Research suggests commercial brain training apps mostly just improve the ability to play brain training apps.

Apps like Lumosity and Elevate claim to help sharpen cognitive skills, but a study led by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Joseph Kable published in The Journal of Neuroscience has “found no evidence that cognitive training influences neural activity during decision-making, nor did we find effects of cognitive training on measures of delay discounting or risk sensitivity”.

The team looked at whether the instant gratification offered by these apps could be used in cognitive training to change behaviour, and whether users to prefer delayed or less risky rewards.

They focused on young adults using the brain training app Lumosity, with each participant playing it in 50 sessions over 10 weeks.

The results showed no change in choices or decision-making behaviour among the study participants, with one exception. “Specifically trained” cognitive task performance improved, suggesting Lumosity mostly increases the users' ability to play the games in Lumosity.

The finding may not be that surprising, especially after the makers of Lumosity were last year ordered by the US consumer protection commission to pay $2 million for misleading the public.

Also, anyone looking to actually improve their cognitive skills by playing games should consider the sci-fi teleportation game Portal 2.