Peak, Cambridge University launch study-backed brain training game

By Jonah Comstock
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cambridgeadvancedtrainingprogrammewebPeak, the London-based brain training game startup that raised $7 million in April, is launching a new game in its brain training app, and backing it up with a small peer-reviewed study published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

The game was actually developed for the study by researchers Barbara Sahakian and Tom Piercy at the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge University. It was then licensed by Peak, who converted it into a more accessible mobile game.

“We’re honored to be able to partner with Cambridge University and Professor Sahakian, who is a world renowned leader in clinical neuropsychology,” Sagi Shorrer, cofounder and COO of Peak, said in a statement. “Through this partnership, Peak is now able to offer more advanced training games rooted in the most recent cognitive science.”

The module in the Peak app is called the "Cambridge University & Peak Advanced Training Plan" and the game in the study, on which the app is based, is called "Wizard". The company describes it as "memory game designed to train visual and episodic memory while promoting learning. This uses the part of the brain necessary for everyday learning and memory, both at work and home, for example remembering where you left a book a few hours ago or where you parked the car."

The study looked at the effects of the app on 22 patients with schizophrenia. Ten used the app for four weeks and 12 used more traditional means of memory coaching. On memory assessments conducted at the conclusion of the four weeks, the control group made an average of 10 errors compared to an average of two for the intervention group. The intervention group also scored about twice as well on an initial memory trial.

“These are promising results and suggest that there may be the potential to use game apps to not only improve a patient’s episodic memory, but also their functioning in activities of daily living," Peter Jones, another researcher, said in a statement. "We will need to carry out further studies with larger sample sizes to confirm the current findings, but we hope that, used in conjunction with medication and current psychological therapies, this could help people with schizophrenia minimise the impact of their illness on everyday life.”

Although the study was on schizophrenia, the paper discusses future potential for helping with Parkinson's, Alzheimer's disease, and even attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The module, designed for four weeks of training, will sell for $14.99 in the United States.

It's prudent for a brain training company back up its product with a scientific study, albeit one with a small sample size. In January, the Federal Trade Commission announced an administrative complaint against Focus Education, a company that makes a brain training game for children called Jungle Rangers. The complaint charges that the company advertised permanent brain improvements in “focus, memory, attention, behavior, and/or school performance”, including for children with ADHD, and backed up the claims with what the FTC said were nonexistent scientific studies.

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