Personal Health

Wonder Why Those Ubiquitous Lumosity 'Brain Training' Ads Suddenly Disappeared?

The jury is still out on what brain training products can really do.

Photo Credit: Luminosity / YouTube

Remember Lumosity, the computer-based brain training company whose ads were everywhere? This year, the San Francisco-based firm slashed ad buys by over 90% after facing increased pressure to defend itself against concerns by the Federal Trade Commission that the company was being deceptive about the efficacy of its product.

On Jan. 5, 2016, "the developer of the wildly popular Lumosity 'brain training' games ha[d] agreed to pay $2 million in refunds to settle federal charges that it deceived customers about the cognitive and health benefits of its apps and online products," STAT News reported

The article also called the FTC's actions outlined in the agreement, "the highest profile — and most costly — crackdown so far on a burgeoning industry that’s increasingly come under fire from scientists and regulators in recent months."

Lumosity claimed its games could not only improve memory and brain performance, but fight off the effects of certain diseases.

Lumosity ad, last aired May 3, 2015.

But the FTC found the claims were "unsubstantiated," according to the Los Angeles Times. “Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.”

The federal government initially wanted Lumos, the company that developed Lumosity, to pay an outlandish sum for redress: $50 million. Eventually, Lumos settled for $2 million. 

Two weeks after the deceptive advertising lawsuit was settled, Lumos Labs CEO Steve Berkowitz "admit[ted] 'the jury is still out on the efficacy of so-called brain-training," reported KQED Science. 

“The foundation of all of this stuff is that it’s new,” Berkowitz told KQED. “Any new industry is divisive and creates debate. And I think that’s the good news about innovation.”

In February, the CEO elaborated on the FTC's setback and how a major tech company hurt the startup. 

"We never focused on diseased populations," Berkowitz told Fast Company. "When ads were purchased, Google gave a suggestion of what keywords to buy. It gives thousands and thousands of suggestions, and we purchased them. We purchased a minimal number of those kind of things, and our intent continues to be on healthy adults."

Still, CNN rated Lumosity the number-one app to train your brain in September 2014, as did Entrepreneur last month.

Lumosity ad, last aired Aug. 8, 2016.

Despite the federal crackdown, the popularity of brain games has led psychologists to conduct further investigations. 

"Given the increasing popularity of brain-training programs claiming to boost cognition (and maybe even prevent AD), [Harvard University geriatric psychologist Deborah] Blacker [said] that it was time to take stock of epidemiological studies conducted thus far," Alzforum reported

According to Blacker, "No single pursuit or hobby has been proven to ward off dementia more than others; rather, it may be the depth of engagement that is important." 

Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.