Wednesday, October 29, 2014

DG XIII: The Stanford Center

In summary: We object to the claim that brain games offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline when there is no compelling scientific evidence to date that they do. The promise of a magic bullet detracts from the best evidence to date, which is that cognitive health in old age reflects the long-term effects of healthy, engaged lifestyles. In the judgment of the signatories, exaggerated and misleading claims exploit the anxiety of older adults about impending cognitive decline. We encourage continued careful research and validation in this field. 
The Stanford Center of Longevity

Last week we were talking about 'good things' with regard to chess and dementia (DG XIII: Doctor Jana Berlin) and today we have another reason to be cheerful: the publication of a statement by the Stanford Center of Longevity.

Can we take the Stanford Center’s A Consensus on the Brain Training Industry and automatically apply it to chess and the questions we’ve been considering in the Doctor Gary series? Clearly not. We can no more assume that the terms 'chess' and 'brain training computer software' are interchangeable than we can decide that 'board games' and 'chess' mean exactly the same thing.

No, the value of the report for chessers is not its conclusions, but rather the nature of its critique. We only need consider a handful of excerpts.

It is customary for advertising to highlight the benefits and overstate potential advantages of their products.
Often, however, the cited research is only tangentially related to the scientific claims of the company, and to the games they sell
The consensus of the group is that claims promoting brain games are frequently exaggerated and at times misleading 
To date, there is little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life. 
Many scientists cringe at exuberant advertisements claiming improvements in the speed and efficiency of cognitive processing and dramatic gains in “intelligence”, in particular when these appear in otherwise trusted news sources. 
Perhaps the most pernicious claim, devoid of any scientifically credible evidence, is that brain games prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s disease.

The questions that the chess world might ask itself with regard to whether and how the game might be an effective intervention with respect to dementia - and how we come to the conclusions that we draw - are not so difficult to tease out are they?

Some intriguing isolated reports do inspire additional research ....

Some of the initial results are promising and make further research highly desirable.

... at present, these findings do not provide a sound basis for the claims made by commercial companies selling brain games.

Sound familiar?

While all of that is more than enough reason to welcome the publication of the Stanford Center statement, the signatories supply a bonus item too: an answer to anybody who would like to pretend that the misreporting (misrepresentation is probably more accurate) of the evidence around chess and dementia is a victimless crime.

Another drawback of publicizing computer games as a fix to deteriorating cognitive performance is that it diverts attention and resources from prevention efforts. 
... we also need to keep in mind opportunity costs ... Time spent playing the games is time not spent reading, socializing, gardening, exercising, or engaging in many other activities that may benefit cognitive and physical health of older adults 

And above all,
... exaggerated and misleading claims exploit the anxiety of adults facing old age ....

A simple question for anybody prepared to look the other way when such claims are made for our game. Is that really what you want for chess?

Chess and Dementia Index


Jonathan B said...

Belated thanks to

Richard James
Matt Fletcher
Michael Yeo

Unknown said...

Mr Hogg commented:
Well done!
Evidence for the tooth fairy* is probably stronger than that for some of the claims re chess and Alzheimers.

(* I got cash as a kid as "proof")

There is, however, a growing body of evidence to suggest playing chess MAY lead to chessplayers saying foolish things. And more than once or twice.

There is still time for Kaspy et al to save face, later they can save other parts of their bodies.