Setting aside the issue of whether brain training games are effective at improving your cognition or intelligence (a questionable assertion, at best), there is at least one good reason to take a look at popular brain training app Peak. Tucked away behind all the personal assessments, metrics and premium plan pitches is a game called Wizard. Wizard isn’t part of the main Peak offering – it has to be purchased separately as an Advanced Training plan – but it has a relatively strong scientific foundation.
Wizard was designed by a team of researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge, led by professor Barbara Sahakian. It’s designed to improve an individual’s episodic memory. Episodic memory is what we usually think about when we think about memory in general – the ability to recall events in our lives and connect them with context and emotion. Forgetfulness, memory loss, and trouble remembering words are all common issues that people with schizophrenia run into, so researchers hoped that a game designed specifically to help with episodic memory might be of some use.
Psychologists, neuroscientists, game developers and people with schizophrenia collaborated to make Wizard as appealing and helpful as they could. It was designed to be fun, attention-grabbing, motivating and easy to understand – after all, there’s no sense designing a helpful game that no one would ever want to play.
Once it was ready, the researchers assigned twenty-two participants, all of whom had been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia, to either the group playing the game or a control group. That’s a small sample, but results were promising. Participants who played the game for a total of eight hours over a four week period performed better on the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery PAL. They also had higher scores than when they started on the Global Assessment of Functioning scale, which doctors use to rate the social, occupational and psychological well-being of adults.
Professor Sahakian discussed the results in a press statement. “We need a way of treating the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia, such as problems with episodic memory, but slow progress is being made towards developing a drug treatment. So this proof-of-concept study is important because it demonstrates that the memory game can help where drugs have so far failed. Because the game is interesting, even those patients with a general lack of motivation are spurred on to continue the training.”
The Wizard module in Peak is based off the game developed for the study, making it widely available for a relatively low price (a one-time unlock fee of $9.99 US). Researchers hope that its benefits to episodic memory might be helpful for a wide range of users, from people with schizophrenia to people who just want to be able to keep better track of where they left their keys or parked their car.