Best Apps For The Brain

We know that the brain is the most important organ in the body, and it’s also one of the most complex. You can’t just ignore your brain and expect it to work well all on its own—you have to give it some TLC!

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the best apps for the brain. These apps are designed to help you keep your mind sharp, focus better on what you’re doing, and use your memory more effectively.

So take a look through our list, pick out some apps that seem cool or helpful, and get started!

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12 Best Apps to Keep Your Brain Active

Best Apps For The Brain

Whether it’s to focus at work, do better at school, or just stay sharp, there are various reasons for wanting to boost brainpower. But maintaining psychological well-being is equally as important.
“Stress and anxiety are among the most pressing and far-reaching public health problems we face,” says Tracy Dennis, professor of psychology at Hunter College. “Mental changes affect every part of our lives: physical health, sense of well-being, work, educational productivity and community involvement.”
Nadine Kaslow, professor and vice chair at Emory University’s Department of Psychiatry and president of the American Psychological Association, says apps can help promote mental health through participation in activities designed to reduce symptoms and improve psychological functioning.
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Then there are apps that don’t directly target mental health, but aim to increase cognitive functioning.
“We know that apps like Lumosity can improve memory, problem solving skills and processing speed, especially in older adults,” says Kaslow. “There are also studies that show that people who engage in these video games are less likely to develop brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Keeping your mind active is as important as physical exercise and these apps can help you stay fit mentally.”
Put your mind to the test
These days, hundreds of brain-training apps claim to put the “smart” in smartphone and guarantee cognitive improvement with minimal daily use. Don’t think your flaky memory or scatterbrain can be restored? Studies are mixed, since this technology is in the early stages of development.
But a 2012 systematic review that analyzed 151 computerized training studies published between 1984 and 2011, found that certain training tasks had a big effect on working memory, processing speed and brain function. In short, playing computer games for a few minutes a day can literally change your mind.
“When you do things in the world, you lay down new neural pathways,” says Dennis. “The more you do something, the more available that pathway is, so you may be able to use your brain resources more effectively.”
New brainteaser apps show up every day in mobile app stores with claims to improve memory, increase I.Q., or enhance other cognitive skills. They may be fun to play, but how many of them actually work?
The goal here after all is to train your brain, not just play video games. Most of the below selections are based on established treatments that have been extensively studied and validated by independent research sources.
For the most part, brain apps can’t make you smarter or happier, but they can help you perform certain tasks better or have more control over your emotional state. Keep in mind that most games are designed for people who are reasonably healthy, not for those with mental disorders, and are no replacement for a mental health professional.
While you’re not going to notice any drastic transformation, it’s worth giving one of these apps a try, since engaging in various types of new and cognitively demanding tasks is good for the brain (plus, it’s fun!).
The best apps for your brain

  1. Lumosity
    This popular app is split into sessions of three games tailored to your goals: memory, attention, problem solving, processing speed or flexibility of thinking. The games are played against the clock and change every time. Developers say just one session a day can improve mental skills and users can track progress and compare performance with others. (Free for limited access, upgrade for $15 a month or $80 a year; available for iOS)
  2. CogniFit Brain Fitness
    Improve cognitive abilities, such as memory and concentration, with sleek, fun and addictive games designed by neuroscientists. Users can track progress and access insights about overall brain health. Competitive players can challenge friends, too.
    After an initial quiz, the app adapts each game’s difficulty to your profile and gives you recommendations based on your results. Developers found that users saw improvement by spending at least 20 minutes, two to three times a week, playing the games. (Free for four games or full subscription for $13 a month or $120; available for iOS)
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  3. Personal Zen
    Players follow two animated characters, one of which looks calm and friendly while the other looks angry, as they burrow through a field of rustling grass. This game, developed by Dennis and researchers from Hunter College and the City University of New York, reduces anxiety by training your brain to focus more on the positive and less on the negative.
    “The habit of thinking about the world in a more positive light — like looking for a silver lining in a bad situation — is one of the key ways we can promote our own resilience in the face of adversity,” says Dennis.
    Even a single session of play can build resilience over several hours. She suggests using the app right before a stressful event, but 10 minutes a day will help build more enduring positive effects. (Free; available for iOS)
  4. Brain Trainer Special
    Like Lumosity, this Android app contains games that have you memorizing letter sequences, phone numbers and solving assorted math problems to keep your mind in tip-top shape. Difficulty levels range from easy to brain-tingling hard. (Free; available on Google Play)
  5. Brain Fitness Pro
    Brain Fitness Pro employs a series of memory training exercises to increase focus, memory and problem-solving skills. Developers say that intensive working memory training dramatically increases attention and general cognitive skills and that these benefits remain long term. ($4; available for iOS)
  6. Happify
    Train your brain to be happier? Yep, research shows that some activities help build your ability to conquer negative thoughts, show gratitude, cope with stress, and empathize — all essential ingredients for a fuller, happier life.
    Using fundamentals of positive psychology, which involves focusing on the strengths and virtues that enable individuals to create fulfilling lives, the app’s quizzes, polls and gratitude journal — combined with a positive community — gradually teach life-changing habits. The goal is to build these skills and keep users smiling all day. (Free; available for iOS)
  7. Positive Activity Jackpot
    This app was originally developed for service members returning from combat with high risk for post-traumatic stress disorder. It uses augmented reality with an Android phone’s GPS to find nearby activities and diversions for someone coping with depression.
    If you cannot make up your mind what to do, “pull the lever” and let the app’s jackpot function make the choice for you. PAJ is based on a form of behavioral therapy called pleasant event scheduling, which encourages a daily schedule of enjoyable activities to improve moods and overcome despondent thoughts. (Free; available on Google Play)
  8. Fit Brains Trainer
    More than 360 unique games and puzzles aimed at stretching and improving your mental agility lead users through various tasks. Sessions get harder as you improve and will always challenge you and provide a solid brain workout.
    Keep track of your progress and performance tools and the program offers training recommendations for best results. (Free; available on iOS and on Google Play)
  9. Eidetic
    Eidetic uses a technique called spaced repetition to help you memorize anything from important phone numbers to interesting words or facts. It works differently from typical brain training apps by using items that have meaning and context, like your beau’s phone number, bank account details, or a new quote worth reciting.
    Notifications remind you when it’s time to test yourself and spaces out tests over time to make sure you retain the information in long-term memory. (Free; available on iOS)
  10. ReliefLink
    Kaslow developed this award-winning app for suicide prevention but it can be used as a general mood tracker.
    “It’s like MyFitnessPal in that you can track all sorts of things that are relevant to your mental health,” says Kaslow.
    It also includes unique coping methods, such as voice-recorded mindfulness and relaxation exercises, or relaxing music. The map locator pinpoints nearby therapists, support groups and mental health treatment facilities, too, in case you ever need to talk to a professional.
    While brain-training apps will never completely take the place of face-to-face intervention and prevention approaches, Dennis sees their potential as an adjunct to other stress-reducing activities, whether that’s exercise, yoga, or seeing a therapist.
    “Apps can also be gateway treatments that empower the individual to make positive changes, which can then lead to seek out other health promotion tools.”
    And while technology can help sharpen the brain and calm the nerves, true mental health is much more holistic.
    “What’s most important is feeling you have meaning in life and social connections,” says Kaslow. “It doesn’t mean you have to be happy, but it does have to do with having purpose.”
    And there’s no app for that…yet.

do brain training apps work

They seem to be everywhere – clever apps on our phone or computer that promise to help enhance memory and other cognitive functions. But does the hype about this type of app stand up to science? We asked the experts whether brain-training apps are worth the effort.

Image of Gillian Harvey
Authored by Gillian Harvey · Reviewed by Dr Sarah Jarvis MBE
01-Jan-21 · 4 mins read
Lack of evidence
While many apps claim to have measurable benefits, neuroscientists such as Sabina Brennan, author of 100 Days to a Younger Brain, urge us to be cautious about their claims. “Unfortunately claims about brain-training apps are frequently exaggerated and can even be misleading,” she says.

“At present there is little strong evidence that brain-training apps are effective. While some studies have reported improvements in the skill being used in the app, what are often small and fleeting advances end up being promoted commercially as lasting improvements,” adds Brennan.

So while some apps may claim to have proven results, any such claims should be received with caution. While small studies have shown promising results, more evidence and validation are required before the medical community as a whole can reach a firm conclusion.

The effect of brain-training apps
Brain-training apps have been shown to produce changes in users’ brains. However, it is not yet established whether these are any different from the changes that occur when we learn something new online or offline.

“In essence this means that it may not be the brain training itself that is delivering the improvement. It is well established from research that improvements in a memory task reflect changes in strategy that allow the person to manage the task better,” explains Brennan.

“Any mentally effortful new experience will produce changes in the neural systems involved in these novel experiences. That includes learning a new language, mastering a new musical instrument or learning a new technique or piece, acquiring a new physical skill or craft or even navigating a new environment. Once an activity involves learning it will promote neuroplasticity (new connections) in the brain, which is a good thing,” says Brennan.
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Real-world brain training
So although apps may have some benefit (for example, if you are using an app rather than sitting and watching TV), when these are compared with ‘real-life’ activities, the benefits don’t stack up. Time may be better spent on activities that offer an additional boost to our health and well-being.

“In my opinion people would be far better engaging in activities that have a strong body of evidence supporting their benefits – this includes socialising, taking exercise, learning new things and having new experiences. Far better to invest your energy in learning a new skill that will benefit you in everyday life than become proficient at a task in a brain-training game that adds little or no real life value,” explains Brennan.

Worth a try?
While brain-training apps may not be better than offline alternatives, they’re likely to be better than nothing. So if you’ve been meaning to take up a new hobby or learn a new language for years but always end up slumped in front of the television instead, you may find a brain-training app is a fun option you could stick with.

If you do feel like giving a brain-training app a try, it’s worth taking the time to investigate the kind of options available. “When it comes to looking for the right fit for you, it really comes down to the outcome you would like to achieve from using the app. For example, if it is to improve memory then you should look for the apps which include these functions. If you are wanting to work on anxiety or emotions, this is something you will have to ensure is included in the app you use,” explains Rebecca Lockwood, NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) Master Coach.

“If possible I would suggest trying a few different options and seeing what fits best for you and what you feel you get the best results from,” advises Lockwood.

Brain-training apps appear on the surface to be a great solution to improving our memory and brain function. But it seems that, unless more evidence of the efficacy of such apps comes to light, we may be better off taking up a new hobby or learning a new skill. In this way, we can train our brains the old-fashioned way, by taking part in activities that offer social, environmental or physical benefits to boot!


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