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Use It or Lose It: Ageing and the Politics of Brain Training

This paper reports findings from a qualitative study of promotional websites for three prominent ‘brain games’ – that is, consumer technologies designed to train and improve the brain through challenging cognitive exercises. The study was specifically designed to critically examine how brain training is promoted as a viable endeavour and how brain games are made to intervene in cognitive functioning. The analysis of online promotion revealed three overlapping themes: (1) the deployment of expertise in game marketing to make brain training intelligible; (2) the deployment of risk metrics in game software to ‘screen and intervene’ in cognitive health; and (3) the deployment of ‘third party’ sources to corroborate brain training’s value, especially for older adults. These findings are used as a basis to contend that brain training technologies are simultaneously enabling and constraining. Against the historical practice of seeing ageing and cognitive ‘decline’ as biopolitical threats, brain games imagine seniors as empowered and capable of sustaining their identity work into retirement. At the same time, these products invoke common anxieties surrounding later life and, in keeping with the politics of neoliberalism, exacerbate the pressure on older persons to demonstrate an obvious ‘will to health’ through ongoing consumerism.