Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Cinema

18th London Turkish Film Festival. 21st February - 3rd March. Odeon West End, ICA, Rio Cinema and Cine Lumiere.

The festival begins with the Open Night Gala, the climax of which is the UK Premiere of Yılmaz Erdoğan’s ‘The Butterfly’s Dream’, starring Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ, Belçim Bilgin and Mert Fırat. Five films are competing for the Golden Wings Digiturk Digital Distribution Award, one of which is the new film from Reha Erdem, ‘Jin’, which screened for the first time just a few days ago at the Berlin Film Festival. Beside a wealth of new and exciting cinema, there will also be events with features, documentary programmes, a selection of outstanding short films, Q&A’s and a Workshop with Reha Erdem.

Art

Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901. 14thFebruary - 26th May. Courtauld Gallery

The Courtauld is presenting the opportunity to re-live the exhibition which launched Picasso as an artist. At only nineteen Picasso collected these rapidly produced, in many ways derivative works in Paris. The works demonstrate Picasso’s emerging aesthetic beneath the influences of Gauguin and Van Gogh. The exhibition includes pieces of remarkable assurance, such as ‘Child With A Dove’, and raw youthfulness, such as ‘Spanish Dancer’. The Courtauld allows us to witness the germination of the twentieth century’s most important artist, which the Telegraph has called ‘a tight, compelling, and beautifully installed exhibition’, and the Independent “a real stunner”.

Ballet

Aeternum. February 22nd – March 14th. Royal Opera House.

Christopher Wheeldon, who at 39 has already made over sixty ballets, is choreographing the world premiere of his Aeternum at the Royal Opera House, in a programme which includes Apollo and 24 Preludes. Wheeldon is using Benjamin Britten’s ‘Sinfonia da Requiem’, and directing Royal Ballet principal Marianela Nunez. He has put this performance together in little over a month, and it promises to be a vibrant treat for fans of his abstract, contemporary classic style.

Opera

Medea. 15th February - 16th March. English National Opera.

David McVicar’s production of Charpentier’s opera of sorcery and vengeance, starring Sarah Connolly, has garnered superb reviews. Baroque and bloodthirsty, it is the tale of the scorned lover of Jason of the Argonauts, who murders their two children when she learns that he will marry another. It is an opera teeming with violence and the supernatural, and Connolly, its mezzo-soprano, gives a highly-praised performance. Medea is conducted by period specialist Christian Curnyn.

If you fear that by the interval you and your company may require a relaxant (a distinct possibility) the ENO offers the opportunity to order champagne along with your tickets.

Comic Books

SuperLab. 20Th and 27th February. Bedroom Bar, 62-68 Rivington Street, Shoreditch.

Now for something different. A group of science Phd students and post-doctoral researchers from UCL and Goldsmiths are hoping to demonstrate to a willing public how comic books can enlighten our real-world experiences. An interactive event called ‘Crime’ on Wednesday 27th will discuss how science can explain artistic ability and whether illegal drugs can bolster creativity. Moreover, stalls will be set up to determine your own superpower (lie-detector cheating and the like). It might also be prudent to note that the event is free, and held in a bar. Golly gee whillikers Batman!

Pablo Picasso (RALPH GATTI/AFP/Getty Images)
NORBERT MILLAUER/AFP/Getty Images
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Brain training: exposing the myth behind cognitive-enhancement games

A new study indicates that any benefits gained from brain games may be down to the placebo effect.

If you’ve ever searched for a quick-fix to mental lethargy, it’s likely that you’ve browsed through your smartphone app store to take a look at the latest offerings of brain-training games.

I certainly have. These games have been designed to sharpen people’s mental acuity, while offering “scientifically proven” means for improving IQs; through a variety of mini-games and careful documentation of improvements to intelligence parameters, people would wield the tools needed to craft the desired, smarter minds that the apps promise.

And the market for them has showed no sign of slowing down. In the space of a few years, the demand for the apps has made the industry a billion-dollar one, with growth expected to continue. A couple of the most popular apps have included Lumosity, a web-based program boasting more than 50m users seeking to “improve memory, attention, flexibility, speed of processing and problem solving”, and mobile-based Peak, whose similar goals and striking visuals entice potential users.

Though the apps have had huge amounts of success, there is a new body of research emerging to suggest that the successes may not be as a result of the games themselves, but because of the placebo effect.

The placebo effect is a phenomenon in which a dummy treatment or process can cause significant changes in a person – simply because that person believes the placebo (posing as a real treatment) will help them. With medication, it can be the mere presentation of a sugar pill disguised as a medicine which can cause a patient to get better. And in the case of apps and games, it seems that anything which promises users cognitive benefit, is more likely to do so.

In a study entitled “Placebo effects in cognitive training” published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that participants who engaged in brain-training games for a single, one hour session showed improvements in IQ by up to ten points, but only if they believed the games would benefit them.

The group of cognitive scientists from George Mason University, Virginia, set up the experiment in a particular way to determine whether or not the placebo effect was involved.

50 participants were recruited, after two different posters asking people to sign up to a study were plastered around campus: one labelled “brain training & cognitive enhancement” and the other “email today & participate in a study”. The rewards for the former promised boosts in intelligence, while rewards for the latter granted study credits. Unknown to participants, however, was that both tests were the same, meaning any resulting changes to IQ were as a result of what participants were telling themselves about the tests.

The tests centred around the engagement of working memory and other factors to impact fluid intelligence – a type of intelligence which revolves around the application of logic and reason, independent of acquired knowledge. Those who chose to sign up to the “brain training & cognitive enhancement” study, aka the placebo study, were the ones to show remarkable gains in IQ after completing a post-brain games IQ test; gains of five to ten IQ points being made. Those who signed up for the control showed no signs of improvement.

Speaking to the Huffington Post, researcher and co-author of the study Cyrus Foroughi said: “Placebos are very pervasive and they have to be controlled for in a tremendous number of fields. This field is no different. So we put together the study to actually test whether expectation for a positive effect can lead to a positive outcome.”

Within the scientific community, frustration had already mounted as a result of the falsely promoted uses of brain games, particularly as tools to reverse age-related, cognitive-faltering illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease. Overstated claims through advertising were enough to encourage scientists to sign an open letter in 2014, condemning the inaccurately purported benefits of brain training games. Earlier this year, Lumosity was fined $2m by the Federal Trade Commission for deceiving consumers with “unfounded claims”.

The recent findings strengthen this position, as the effects of cognitive training games seem less to do with the content of the games themselves, and more to do with what users tell themselves will happen after a session of, brain-training puzzle bonanzas. That’s not to say the games themselves don’t offer some benefit – it’s just that further clarification is needed to understand what they exactly contribute to, with the placebo effect factored in.

While scientists expand on their research to pinpoint the real effects of brain games, it seems for now that the best options to keep our brains active are the ones we are most familiar with: learn a language, do some exercise, or maybe just read a book.