May 22, 2024


Science It Works

Brain Training and Mind Games – Interview With Japanese Expert Go Hirano

Today we are traveling to Japan to learn about latest gaming trends there. Go Hirano is a Japanese executive with experience in neuroscience and gaming.

Alvaro Fernandez (AF): Hirano-san, what is the state of Brain Fitness and Brain Training in Japan? what are the most popular programs so far?

Go Hirano (GH): So far, the most popular application is anti-aging, and most popular product is Dr. Kawashima’s book of calculations and oral reading for adults.

TV variety shows regularly come up with Brain specials. It is hardly deniable that brains enchant Japanese people. We love brain training.

There were two times of “brain boom” in the past and Brain Imaging created a third one most recently. Dr. Kawashima claimed calculations and oral reading are good to develop kids’ brains in the book for children “Jibun no Nou wo Jibun de Sodateru (Develop your own brain)” in 2001. In the book, gaming was said to reduce prefrontal activation and have bad or no benefit for kid’s brain. He compared the fMRI image of someone doing simple calculations and playing games, and apparently the image of the former showed more activities. To see the activities inside the brain was fresh for people, but the methodology and logic was not reviewed by any scientific publication. It was published by a company that provides a franchised chain of learning classes. The company maintained books at bookstores to create a boom and was very successful. Then they came up with adult version of training book, and sold more than 2 million.

Adults and senior people were seriously did addition and subtraction of 1 digit numbers for countless times believing it will maintain and even enhance their brainpower.

This then became the basis for the Nintendo Brain Age video game. More recently from him, cooking became good for brain since cooking demands planning and multiple tasks. They demand prefrontal cortex activation, and he showed image of a brain when cooking. A gas company that wants to sell more gas ranges and ovens helped sponsor the research.

AF: we have heard there has been a backlash recently. Is it more of a scientific, or consumer one?

GH: Scientific for adults’ games, consumer for kids’ ones. In 2001, another researcher, Dr. Akio Mori wrote an article called “Gemu(=Game) Nou(=Brain) no Kyofu (The Fear of Game Brain)”. He created his own EEG machine and gathered the data of people who frequently play games and people who do not. He found the “beta-wave” from frequent game players that are “same as senior people with dementia”. That, he said, is because of lack of activities in their prefrontal cortex, and that means more probabilities for lower academic performance and crime. Though his equipment was not verified, and he was said to get confused about alpha and beta wave of EEG, parents and education authorities like municipal education committees loved his book and invited him for lectures and conferences. His new book in 2006 became the recommended book of the year from the National PTA Committee.

The sales of software on home game machines have declined from its peak of 533 billion yen in 1997 to its 53%, 315 billion yen in 2005. Dr. Mori’s book and phenomena was the finishing blow to the industry, especially for kids’ games. Therefore game companies had to find new targets who had never played game machines, like middle-aged group and women. Brain Age was preceded by a Sega’s game box that was the natural next step after the book from Dr. Kawashima I mentioned.

For women, games on English training, language support for traveling, cooking, common sense and etiquette are provided. These new sort of serious games not only helped the handheld game machine stay always out of stock and reach multi-million sales, but also successfully gave the image that games are, depending on the software, good for the brain and education. Funny it is that the authority backing the campaign is the same Dr. Kawashima who originally recommended kids to calculate rather than to play games for the benefit for brains.

No wonder, authorities from the academic and medical societies of the neuroscience field started criticizing scientifically unproven or no evidence-based products, books and opinion makers. This year, neuroscience researchers started a group called “Nou wo Ikasu (Make the best out of Neuroscience)” and have frequent meetings of researchers where people can join.

However, adult consumers keep devouring such games. Dentsu, the biggest advertising agency announced the No.1 Consumer-chosen Choice of the Product 2006 was game software and books for brain training. So far, apparently the demands went far out before the real neuroscience comes to fill. Between the balance of body and brain, Japanese people are one of the extreme that is most brain-ism oriented, to the brain side, says Dr. Yoro.

AF: Hirano-san, many thanks for your insights.

GH: you are welcome.

Copyright (c) 2007 SharpBrains