Is it just me, or is everybody out there looking for a quick fix? There is something highly compelling about the idea that there is a secret switch we can flip to become suddenly smarter, to reveal cognitive abilities hidden inside each of us. It is a notion that certainly has commercial appeal. Over just seven years, the games-maker Lumosity rocketed from zero to 50 million users, promising rapid improvements in general intelligence by playing brain-training video games for just a few weeks. (Lumosity recently settled with the United States Federal Trade Commission for making unsupported claims that its product was scientifically validated.) ‘Memory health’ nutritional supplements have sales of more than $1.5 billion, and ‘smart drugs’ – pills to enhance cognitive performance – have become prevalent on college campuses. Purveyors of products based on subliminal messages promise to teach us foreign languages and cure our addictions while we sleep. And makers of headgear that attaches electrodes to our scalps promise to rev up our brains to improve gaming performance and other cognitive activities.
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