A theory by a professor from Ontario University states that intelligence is not static and can actually be improved through a person's efforts.

That may mean surrounding oneself with people who are smarter than you or engaging in brain games that could supposedly help you boost your intellect.

With the emergence of accessible smartphone applications, such brain games could be downloaded and used anytime, anywhere.

Indeed, the brain training industry markets the apps as something that would give users an intellectual edge and even stave off mental aging.

However, it may not be that simple. New research suggests that the results from cognitive training may actually just be a placebo effect encouraged by recruitment practices.

Unravelling The Placebo Effect

Led by expert Cyrus Foroughi, researchers at George Mason University decided to examine whether cognitive training apps and studies are affected by the placebo effect.

This is when a person's confidence in treatment causes an improvement in their state even when the treatment itself is a "sham." It is so powerful that drug trials usually include placebos to make sure that any benefits of the drugs being tested are authentic.

Researchers recruited college students through two different flyers.

The first flyer invited students for a cognitive enhancement and brain training study. This flyer stated that multiple studies have found that working memory training can boost fluid intelligence.

The second flyer did not indicate the purpose of the study but offered credit points for participation.

The students completed an hour of cognitive training. Researchers tested the participants' fluid intelligence before and on the day of the training.

Participants who came for the first flyer saw the equivalent of a five to 10-point bump to their intelligence quotient (IQ). Those recruited through the second flyer missed out on the benefits.

In the end, cognitive scientists concluded that the brain-training programs do induce a placebo effect.

Foroughi says the study provides evidence that the "benefits" aren't really "a true training effect."

Furthermore, the suggestive marketing that researchers used in the study is common in brain training research, they said.

The research team investigated recruitment procedures for 19 studies and discovered that all but two openly recruited participants for a brain or cognitive training study.

They said this method of recruitment changes the research by favoring the recruitment of those who are affected by the power of the placebo effect.

Details of the new study are published in the journal PNAS.

Photo: John Loo | Flickr

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