BACKGROUND: While clinical evidence for the efficacy of brain training remains in question, numerous smartphone applications (apps) already offer brain training directly to consumers. Little is known about why consumers choose to download these apps, how they use them, and what benefits they perceive. Given the high rates of smartphone ownership in those with internet access and the younger demographics, we chose to approach this question first with a general population survey that would capture primarily this demographic.
METHOD: We conducted an online internet-based survey of the US population via mTurk regarding their use, experience, and perceptions of brain training apps. There were no exclusion criteria to partake although internet access was required. Respondents were paid 20 cents for completing each survey. The survey was offered for a 2-week period in September 2015.
RESULTS: 3125 individuals completed the survey and over half of these were under age 30. Responses did not significantly vary by gender. The brain training app most frequently used was Lumosity. Belief that a brain-training app could help with thinking was strongly correlated with belief it could also help with attention, memory, and even mood. Beliefs of those who had never used brain-training apps were similar to those who had used them. Respondents felt that data security and lack of endorsement from a clinician were the two least important barriers to use.
DISCUSSION: RESULTS suggest a high level of interest in brain training apps among the US public, especially those in younger demographics. The stability of positive perception of these apps among app-naïve and app-exposed participants suggests an important role of user expectations in influencing use and experience of these apps. The low concern about data security and lack of clinician endorsement suggest apps are not being utilized in clinical settings. However, the public's interest in the effectiveness of apps suggests a common theme with the scientific community's concerns about direct to consumer brain training programs.