The truth always comes out in the end.
I don’t think there’s anyone out there who doesn’t want to feel smarter or worry less about becoming forgetful as they age. Enter Lumosity: a company who claims that their simple brain games will help you perform better at work, alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke and brain injuries, and boost your cognitive abilities. Sounds great, right? You play a few quick games a day and you can scientifically train your brain.
Unfortunately, things that seem to be too good to be true often are. They simply didn’t have the science to back up their claims. They have been deceiving their users and have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges by paying a $2 million fine. They will also have to notify their subscribers and provide them with an easy way to cancel their auto-renewal subscriptions. It doesn’t look as though users will be reimbursed for money already paid though.
The Lumosity website looks legitimate. When you land on their homepage, it offers you the chance to get your training started with a baseline assessment that will help create a personalised training plan. A free membership will let you play a few games a day, whereas a paid plan will give you access to all of the games and individual tracking and recommendations. There are links to what they refer to as scientific papers backing up their methods and many of their staff team members have science backgrounds.
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However, Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said: “Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease. But [they] simply did not have the science to back up [their] ads.”
Lumosity also failed to disclose that some of their user testimonials were solicited through contests offering substantial prizes. What better way to get people to say positive things about your service than to offer the hope of a free iPad, a lifetime Lumosity subscription, or a round-trip to San Francisco?
If you’re a user who is wondering how your Lumosity statistics page makes it look like you’re improving even though their claims are bogus, you need to understand what those numbers are tracking: how well you play the games. Sure, if you play a particular game over and over, you are going to get better at it. That isn’t where the problem lies. The issue is that Lumosity states that this practice will transfer over to other instances unrelated to that particular game.
A careful reading of promises such as this one will reveal what they are actually promising: “Analysis of our database shows that just 10-15 minutes of Lumosity training per day can lead to improvements in Lumosity over time.”
They have 70 million users in 182 countries, so if you’ve been tricked by their pseudoscience marketing, you aren’t alone. If you enjoy the games, by all means, keep playing. But if you want to see actual science-based results, it might be time to search elsewhere.
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Editor's Note (January 7): The original title of the article referred to the website as "Luminosity." We apologize for any misunderstandings this may have caused.