“Lumosity” fails to surpass luminosity

This morning, I guided my friend through a complex situation, managed a beach bar with an overwhelming number of customers and spotted a variety of flying fauna in a lush, colorful forest. I should also mention that my “friend” was an animated penguin, the “complex situation” was a surprisingly difficult maze, and I did all of the above in approximately twenty minutes from behind my MacBook Pro, in the comfort of my cozy first-year dorm, while my roommate was asleep and I was still in my pajamas. Lumosity, the company that made possible my varied accomplishments this a.m., is the latest “brain game” craze on the market.

Despite its similarity in name to the word luminosity, I think it is important to note that Lumosity is short two vital letters in comparison. The company’s omission of these letters is the first cranial illusion we are given. Whereas luminosity describes the quality of being intellectually brilliant, Lumosity has no meaning whatsoever, except of course when associated with its longer-by-two-letters cousin.

The idea of brain-training games is not a new one. I remember playing Brain Age on my lime green Nintendo DS long before lumosity.com surfaced; however, Lumosity’s claim to make you “smarter, sharper and brighter” three words that coincidentally mean exactly the same thing creates quite the draw in today’s society.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2013 Facts and Figures, someone develops Alzheimer’s disease every 68 seconds. Startling statistics like this one, combined with an increasingly competitive job market, make maintaining and improving cognitive functions crucial to not simply surviving but succeeding.

I found a couple of the website’s quotes enlightening. One said, “Analysis of our database shows that just 10-15 minutes of Lumosity training per day can lead to improvement in Lumosity over time.” Gasp. By playing the same games day after day, I will get better at those games? No wonder my first grade teacher so strongly encouraged making flashcards. Another professed that “Training 3-5 times per week produces the best Lumosity results.” Yet again, we see the claim for improvement within the website itself. What happened to changing my life, my overall intelligence? And by life I mean my actual life, not the one that relies on the proper functioning of my hard drive.

I take offense at the company’s declarations that are supposedly supported by facts. The studies they reference have yet to be duplicated by other sources, though not for a lack of attempts. The phrases “science that works” and “clinically proven” are scattered throughout Lumosity’s marketing platform, yet these are embellished, at best. As someone who respects the scientific process, I cannot help but be repelled by the company’s proclaimed use of science with minimal supporting data.

Aim for luminosity rather than success on Lumosity. Pay the $14.95 monthly price tag if you get some sense of personal satisfaction out of doing so, but if true intellectual advancement is your goal, I have some other suggestions. You could finish reading that book you started the summer before college but haven’t picked up since. Try a couple of the challenge exercises in your math textbook. You could watch a documentary or finally put your long-seeded ambition of becoming bilingual into action. We are surrounded by opportunities for intellectual growth; we just have to take advantage of them.

My personal, day-long experience with Lumosity did have “wide-ranging effects,” as their ads claim. My account has been deleted, and I am now focusing on more tangible accomplishments. The only major downside I have encountered thus far is that I have to change out of my pajamas before I can start.

Kali Gustafson ’17 gustafsk@stolaf.edu is from Duluth, Minn. She majors in chemistry.

Image by Daniel Bynum