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Study: Nintendo brain games don't make the grade

Professor says Nintendo DS games that claim to improve memory work no better than the old-fashioned paper and pencil. But that doesn't mean they're not fun.

Nintendo's brain games may not help put your kid on the Nobel Prize track after all, according to one professor who put the titles to the test.

Brain Academy screenshot
Can the mind-bending activities in games like Big Brain Academy make you smarter? The debate continues. Nintendo

Alain Lieury, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Rennes in Brittany, France, surveyed a group of 10-year-olds and concluded that homework, reading, or playing Scrabble or sudoku produced benefits that matched or beat the supposed memory-enhancing properties of such titles as Big Brain Academy, Brain Training, and Brain Age.

The latter game contains several types of puzzle challenges designed to stimulate and keep the gray matter "young" and sharp.

"The Nintendo DS is a technological jewel. As a game it's fine," the Times Online quotes Lieury as saying. "But it is charlatanism to claim that it is a scientific test."

Lieury, a memory specialist, split 67 10-year-olds into four groups, according to the Times Online. The first two took part in a seven-week memory course on a Nintendo DS game console, the third did puzzles with pencils and paper, and the fourth went to school as usual.

Before and after the course, the kids were given tasks including logic tests, memorizing words on a map, doing sums, and interpreting symbols. Researchers found that children using the Nintendo DS system didn't show any significant improvement in memory tests. They did do 19 percent better in math, but so did the pencil-and-paper group, while the fourth group did 18 percent better.

"If it doesn't work on children, it won't work on adults," Lieury said.

Of course, some will surely argue that brain games--even if their long-term benefits aren't scientifically proven--beat out first-person shooters or watching MTV when it comes to a beneficial use of time. And in the end, Lieury's findings pretty much back reviews by CNET, at least of Brain Age: "Does Brain Age actually make you smarter? We have no idea, but it's still an interesting puzzle game available at a budget price."

We've contacted Nintendo to get a response to Lieury's study and will update this post as soon as we hear back.

In the meantime, as the debate continues, have you or your kids played any of Nintendo's brain games? If so, did you spot any cognitive improvements?