Prudence, pleasure, and cognitive ageing: Configurations of the uses and users of brain training games within UK Media, 2005-2015

Martyn Pickersgill*, Tineke Broer, Sarah Cunningham-Burley, Ian Deary

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


The use of ‘brain training’ games is often regarded as relating to wider ideals of self-improvement and youthfulness. Hence, use is intertwined with discourses of ‘active’ ageing. This paper analyzes how the use and users of brain training games were configured in the UK media, from 2005 to 2015, and examines how notions of active ageing relate to these representations. Game users were rarely constructed solely as gamers, and were more often presented as prudent individuals focused on a serious goal. This configuration related to assumed and enjoined motivations for brain training; specifically, users were commonly framed as seeking to enhance cognition and limit/delay cognitive decline. Scientific evidence about brain training was often deployed to explain how games might work; sometimes, however, it was used to undermine the utility of games and assert the significance and cognitive health-benefits of other activities. A minority of texts explicitly critiqued ideals of self-improvement, arguing that game playing was important for its own sake. Yet, even the pleasure associated with gaming was occasionally instrumentalized as a mechanism for ensuring prudent life choices. The analysis casts fresh light on how debates around health, ageing, and science correspond to configurations of technology uses and users. It presents evidence of the widespread cultural circulation of enjoiners regarding self-care and healthy ageing within British society. However, the paper also provides indications of the limits to such imperatives: discourses of pleasure co-exist with and perhaps supplant logics of prudence in (accounts of) practices ostensibly aimed at ageing ‘well’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-100
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Issue numberAugust
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


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