September 28, 2010
Scientific American
Gary Stix

Michael Merzenich is a pioneer in the exploration of neuroplasticity, the exploration of the brain’s intrinsic changeability, even in adulthood. In recent years, Merzenich has brought neuroplasticity to the masses by forming a company, Posit Science, that uses the findings of his research to provide games that enhance visual and auditory skills.

Now Posit wants to broaden its brain-boosting still further by creating a social networking site where anyone, whether in Karachi or Miami, can collaborate on cognitive training exercises. Players work together by exploring cities around the world to solve historical mysteries. After completion of brain exercises, they get additional pieces of a puzzle. The site, called Brain Odyssey, which launches Wednesday, allows the player to indulge for free, though as with some other similar sites, virtual goods can be purchased to further progress through the game. “We’ve done this because those 50 and over have doubled their use of social networking,” says Steven Aldrich, the company’s chief executive.

Of the dozens of companies that market brain games, Posit asserts that it has the most science underlying its brain exercises: A study published in 2009, for instance, showed that 242 healthy participants aged 65 years and older improved on measures of memory and attention after 40 hours of training more than a control group did. The study was conducted by researchers from Posit, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Southern California and other academic institutions.