Who wouldn’t want to be smarter? After all, high intelligence can help you get better grades in school, more promotions at work, fatter pay checks through your career, and a cushier life overall. Those are pretty good outcomes by any measure.
For years, scientific studies suggested that smarts were mostly heritable and fixed through young adulthood—nothing one could willfully boost. But some recent studies hint that a segment of smarts, called fluid intelligence—where you use logic and patterns, rather than knowledge, to analyze and solve novel problems—can improve slightly with memory exercises. The alluring finding quickly gave life to a $1 billion brain training industry. This industry, including companies such as Lumosity, Cogmed, and NeuroNation, has since promised everything from higher IQs to the ability to stay sharp through aging. The industry even boasts that it can help users overcome mental impairments from health conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), traumatic brain injury, and the side effects of chemotherapy.
Those claims are clearly overblown and have been roundly criticized by scientists, the media, and federal regulators. Earlier this year, Lumosity agreed to pay $2 million to the Federal Trade Commission over claims of deceptive advertising. The FTC said Lumosity “preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline.” In the settlement, the FTC forbid the company from making any such claims that the training could sharpen consumers’ minds in life-altering ways.