Mind the gap: What Lumosity promised vs. what it could prove

Ads for Lumosity’s “brain training” program made it sound simple. Play games for 10-15 minutes several times a week to delay memory decline; protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease; improve school, work, and athletic performance; and reduce the effects of everything from ADHD to post-traumatic stress disorder. But an FTC complaint alleges that defendant Lumos Labs didn’t have sound science to support those claims. What’s the message for marketers? When it comes to unsubstantiated cognition promises, the FTC isn’t playing games. (A side note to advertisers: Don’t miss the count in the complaint about soliciting consumer testimonials.)

Lumosity ads cast a wide net, claiming its program “benefits everyone.” For students, the company touted “improved scores on standardized tests of cognitive ability.” Athletes were told that Lumosity would enhance their performance on the diamond, ice, hardwood, fairway, court, and even cricket pitch.

Ads also targeted people with serious medical conditions. For example, Lumosity claimed stroke patients and cancer survivors could regain cognitive abilities, including a purported reduction in “chemofog” in children getting chemotherapy. The company advertised Lumosity as a way to “improve outcomes in combat veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries.” What about people with ADHD? According to the ads, through “specifically designed brain training” they would “develop sustained attention and focus.”

Another key market for Lumosity was older Americans concerned about age-related declines in cognition. Some ads focused on “Where did I put my keys?”-type lapses, but others went further, claiming the games would protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The FTC alleges that the defendants made a host of false or deceptive representations, including that scientific studies prove that training with Lumosity provides a long list of real-world benefits. The complaint also charges that the company failed to disclose that it solicited many of the glowing testimonials on its site as part of a contest.

The proposed settlement imposes a $50 million judgment, which will be suspended after the company pays $2 million. In addition, Lumosity will have to contact people enrolled in its auto-renewal plan between 2009 and 2015 to offer them a simple, one-click way to cancel and avoid future billing. The order also includes injunctive provisions to protect consumers from future misrepresentations. For example, Lumosity will need human clinical testing before making a broad range of cognition claims. Those provisions also apply to corporate officers Kunal Sarkar and Michael Scanlon.

What does the Lumosity case suggest for other companies?

Heed the cognition admonition. Whether it’s teaching toddlers to read, boosting board scores for high school students, or addressing memory lapses that concern older consumers, more companies are marketing products with the promise of improved cognition. The Lumosity settlement is the latest in a series of cases reminding advertisers that claims like that need solid scientific support.

Mind the gap.  Lumosity users were able to track their game performance and compare it with other users. Let’s assume a person showed improvement over time. Does that establish a boost in memory, focus, and productivity that will translate into tangible day-to-day benefits? Or does it just show that the person got better at playing the game? One of the concerns in this case is that Lumosity promised real-world improvements in work, school, and athletic performance without appropriate proof. Savvy advertisers are careful to make sure their ad claims fit the evidence.

It’s unwise to secretly incentivize.  Lumosity prominently featured consumer testimonials on its website and in other marketing materials. The stories may have seemed impressive at first, but there was something readers weren’t told: Lumosity solicited many of those endorsements through contests where people could win prizes like an iPad, a trip to San Francisco, or a lifetime Lumosity subscription.  According to the FTC, that’s the kind of “material connection” between an advertiser and an endorser that must be disclosed. Read The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People are Asking for a compliance refresher.



This is great news.

How does one file a claim for a refund?

If I've paid for so,thing that wasted my time and money, and didn't do me any good I should get a refund, especially if I was deceived.

Longtime subscriber and purchased for family as well
Disappointing. Feel like i'm driving a VW DIESEL!!
Thx Bob

This is great news.

How does one file a claim for a refund?


"Play games for 10-15 minutes several times a week to delay memory decline; protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease....When it comes to unsubstantiated cognition promises, the FTC isn’t playing games."
No pun intended! Haha I don't think you guys realized you did this. :)

I think it was on purpose.

I feel a sensation that something has happened in my head after completing a luminosity session that hasn't happened while reading a book or doing a crossword puzzle. The closest sensation to it occurs after a challenging session at duplicate bridge tournament. Sorry that these guys used unproven claims and deceptive practices which discredits the company. However I have realized value from my purchase and hope to continue

They also have makeup that they falsified., and keep charging your bank account. I have tried and tried to get them to stop, but they will not. It has been overa year and every month I see they have charged me again. I would like to also file charges on them. I just don't have the money to do this.

This is great news!

I got my email link and was able to close the auto renewal today! It gets really hard to track these online recurring subscriptions and given that the premise is to help forgetful people improve their memory... well...Luminosity must've known their 'cognitively impaired' groups were doomed to 'forget' to cancel, especially when the recurring payment is processed on a 2 or 3 year cycle.

Thank you! This would be even better if the consumers got refunds or something in addition to the 'right to cancel.' I've lost between $60 and $120 according to their billing cycles.

Why don't you let consumers decide if they are getting what they want from the games? Another case of "I'm from the government and I'm here to screw you". Please, please, get out of DC and find productive work.

I was in a serious car accident with substantial head injuries. One of my physicians mentioned Lumosity as a possible idea to help my flailing cognitive processes recover from the brain injury I sustained. I was skeptical, but I tried it. I was impressed. It really did help my short term memory lapses and brain fog. I entered the program at barely 15 - 19% competency in my age group (50-54). Over the course of one year, playing about 5 days a week, I improved to 95 - 99% in my age group. Was I getting better at the games? Yes. With that much practice, who wouldn't? But there were trackable, sustained markers outside of the games. I wasn't losing track of things, my short term memory had greatly improved, almost returning to normal, I could remember names again, and I returned to work as the executive director of an international ministry and have been able to pick up my fast - paced life again with very little noticeable differences from my pre-accident state. I stopped the games after one year. I have experienced no further improvement since I stopped. I was ready to go back and start again to see if the improvements would continue even after a one year hiatus. Now I see all this hoopla about the program. It worked for me. If it did not, I would have stopped. The FTC does not need to tell me anything, I have documented experience. I did not get a prize for anything. I quietly use the service and it saved me from a serious brain injury. I have recommended it to several others; a high school football player who had several severe concussions, a woman in her 70's who noted to me she was experiencing "mental decline"...and both of them improved noticeably on the program. I say try it. They had millions of folks using this service. There can't be that many "idiots" who have simply been fleeced, as the FTC implies. No. I am one of the many who saw noticeable, trackable, sustained improvement from a brain injury, at my doctor's recommendation, using this program. I have witnessed others who have had the same results. Keep a log. Note your improvements. Then decide for yourself. Don't follow the lemmings over the cliff. You may end up losing the remarkable benefits of this program. But this is all based on my personal experience with this program and the experiences of those whom I sent to this program. Your actual experiences may differ, but the Lumosity team is on to something. I hope this doesn't cause them to close up shop. Traumatic brain injury survivors, like myself, can benefit greatly from this service.

FTC isn't saying it doesn't work, they're saying Lumosity doesn't have sufficient scientific evidence to support their claims. If you think it helps, by all means use it, but Lumosity can't say it does things that they doesn't have evidence to support, whether it does them or not. Wishful thinking does not substantiation make.

I'm pleased to see FTC looking out for the public's interest. Would love to see them go after FOX News, but that's another story. I've been a member of Lumosity for several years, because I thought the games might improve my memory. When I play the games regularly I feel a benefit. Certain games come to mind. The game of serving restaurant customers and trying to remember who ordered what and what their names are really sharpens up my ability to focus and pay attention. The math games have improved my weakest academic skill and my facility of quick response to the problems. The game that allows for creating words from letter bubbles has improved my ability with playing scrabble. I like the Lumosity games. I like playing the games. When I am consistent in playing them I do see improvement in my ability. There's nothing wrong with that. I wish they hadn't done what they have been caught doing, but that seems to be part and parcel with unregulated capitalism: make up the biggest lies to catch more customers. That sucks, because I paid money to play the games and to sharpen up my memory not to ward off dementia or to cure any other disorder. My current time purchase expires this coming November and I have stopped the auto-renewal.....for now. I may change my mind.

This settlement was long overdue. People with serious conative decline or injury do not need to be taken advantage of (no one does!) Rehab facilities, therapists, physicians, and others need to protect patients and take responsibility for vetting programs such as Lumosity. Good job, FTC!!

I have been playing Lumosity games on and off for a couple of years. The problem for me is that I am very good at several of the games (supposedly in the 99% for my age group) and therefore experience addictive behavior similar to gambling. I sign up for a month at a time but then write and ask them to cancel before the month is up without asking for a refund just to keep myself from playing. My concern about the games is that I feel that no one is researching the possible negative effects some of these games might have. I have been diagnosed with a bipolar ll illness and am very distractible. In some of the games you have to remember something very briefly and then forget it so that you can pay attention to the next thing. The games I am good at may relate to this characteristic. Unfortunately, I feel that after playing the games I have trouble paying attention when I am driving or remembering something (like the book I just read) for more than an instant. On the other hand many of the games are similar to the ones I've done in programs used for kids that have reading disabilities. My eye movements are more fluid after playing these types of games. So I might recommend the games for people with reading disabilities but not those with ADHD. I also think the games are good for people with winter depression because the games are stimulating in a way that is similar to using a 10,000 LUX light box. That similarity would make a good scientific study. It is unclear what type of scientific studies the Lumosity Company is using.

I have asked Lumosity for a refund because my auto renewal activated. They are giving me the run around. I think, in light of the recent developments, they should be jumping through hoops. Instead, they are dragging their feet. I don't know how to get reimbursed, but perhaps contacting the FTC to put pressure on them will help. They (Lumosity) aren't really living up to their end of the bargain.

I am a nurse who is almost 70. When I was first llucky enough to come upon Lumosity in 2009, I had been noticing a decline in my ability to react to situations on my job. I also noticed a slowing down in my ability to keep up with conversations or activities when I was around younger people. After a bit f time playing Lumosity games, I noticed that my ability to react and keep up was back to a normal that I have felt all my life. Just doing one game can wake me up in the morning. I am somewhat sporadic in my use of Lumosity now, but the thing that I appreciate most about it is that it tracks my competency so I can compare my current ability in certain areas to previous and future ability. It gives me a clue to figure out what I may be doing in my life to slow down my progress in certain areas where I may be going backwards. Overall, the changes that helped me in real life have been maintained, I do not feel decline. My brain remains active, my memory good, and I do not feel like life is passing me by. There are reasons for Alzheimers that have nothing to do with the intellectual capacity of it's victims. I think that Lumosity probably over reached in its claims. If there is no scientific evidence to back Lumosity's claims so be it. I will continue to use Lumosity. I have had a notice every year that I am being charged, but have always wanted to continue so I did not look for a way to cancel.
One more thing. The fact is that there are games which I will not do because they are too hard and discouraging. For me this is an incentive, knowing that one day I will tackle these games and if I ever get good or even passable at them, it will definitely be an increase in my brain strength.

I paid the lifetime membership in 2013 and have proof. I called the ftc and they told me they don't have my name on file and that I should have gotten an email with a claim and a pin number. I never got such an email and now they tell me without the claim and pin number I cannot file a claim! I work hard for my money like everyone else and hate the thought that I just threw money away! Can anybody help me out here?

I never received a notice that I could cancel my auto renew subscription, and nothing that I could get a refund! I feel duped by Luminosity and want a refund! They just auto renewed me again for another year!!! What do I do?

A few years ago I was diagnosed with Minor Cognitive Impairment and naturally became very concerned. Being a mental health professional I began searching the literature for studies that might provide me some way to fight it. Some studies were fairly clear that doing "challenges" online to exercise the brain was helpful. I did not read any study done by the Lumosity team but the other challenges were similar in some respects. I bought a year subscription for Lumosity and began doing it regularly for 20-30 minutes most days. Running is also key, however, and I began running daily.
On my follow-up evaluation one year later, using the same protocol and testing as before, I tested normal. I feel that the brain exercises contributed substantially to my progress. I have regressed since then unfortunately, mainly because I quit doing the regimen that helped me. I am now doing Lumosity and running again and hope it will help me as before.. There are many other important contributors to cognitive decline, but progress seems to be being made. In the meantime, brain games from mental health professionals and the medical profession in general may help.

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