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Despite the constant hand-wringing that smartphones will lead to the downfall of society, there’s mounting evidence that your phone habit may not be so bad after all.
In fact, there are ways your phone might actually be good for you.
We’ve compiled a list of apps to boost your brainpower, hone your memory, and even improve your emotional intelligence.
The science of how exactly our brains work – and how much we can train them – is constantly evolving, but one thing’s for sure: there’s no better way to get smarter while waiting in line at the grocery store.
Whether you use an iPhone or an Android phone, there’s something here for you.
Dylan Love and Rachel Sugar contributed to earlier versions of this article.
Combining reading, writing, listening, and speaking exercises for maximum progress in minimal time, Duolingo is a free (and beautiful) app designed to help you learn one of 13 languages.
And you don’t have to be traveling any time soon to reap the potential benefits: research suggests that becoming multilingual boosts your cognitive power. Moreover, the process of learning a new language – whether or not you ever become fluent in it – may actually help you delay cognitive decline in old age.
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Not only will reading teach you about discreet topics – mandatory drug sentencing, the early work of Alanis Morissette, SpaceX – but it may also increase the raw power of your mind. Regular reading helps keep your brain sharp as you age, boosts your vocabulary, enhances your memory, and improves your analytical thinking.
Also, it will make you more interesting at parties.
With the Kindle app, you can systematically work your way through all of literature on your morning commute. Almost any book you can think of is available for purchase, but you can also download anything that’s out of copyright (i.e., most of the Western canon) for free.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
Today in History
- Today in History
Every day, Today in History delivers what happened, well, today in history.
Get a quick overview of the day’s historic births, deaths, and important events, and if something piques your interest, follow the in-app links to read more about related topics on Wikipedia. It’s a perfect way to connect with the past – and it will make you the MVP of pub quiz.
Price: Free ($2.99 without ads)
Fit Brains Trainer
- Fit Brains Trainer
Fit Brains Trainer is a brain-training program brought to you by Rosetta Stone. It is designed to stimulate your emotional intelligence (EQ) and your IQ.
It features over 50 games, over 500 workout sessions that can help improve your memory, speed of thinking, concentration, problem solving, language, and visual spatial.
Price: Free to download, then subscriptions cost $7.99 a month or $39.99 a year.
We know that mindful meditation can make you less anxious. But a growing body of research suggests that regular meditation may actually alter your neural networks and enhance your cognitive skills. It’s associated with better concentration, better memory, and superior multi-tasking skills.
Headspace helps you get started with guided and unguided meditations that last anywhere from 2 to 60 minutes.
Price: Free to download, then $7.99 per month when you buy a year-long subscription.
You don’t have to be in the process of releasing your first electropop album to take advantage of the brain-boosting power of GarageBand.
The app comes with a collection of “Smart Instruments” that are appropriate whether or not you’ve ever played a note before. As you learn, you’ll actually be improving the way your brain functions – and the current research suggests that those music-induced benefits could carry over into the rest of your life, too. You’ll be able to solve problems more efficiently and creatively, and you may even gain a few IQ points.
Access the entire video library of TED Talks and use your spare time to get inspired by some of the most interesting leaders, thinkers, and innovators – from wherever you happen to be.
On the TED app, you can build custom playlists, explore talks curated by topic, and download videos to watch offline.
The Elements in Action
- Elements in Action
Elements are the building blocks of everything around us, and this video-based app brings 79 of them to life.
The Elements in Action gives “one definitive demonstration” of each element’s more amazing properties (what does happen when rubidium is dropped into water?), plus clearly written text explanations of their characteristics. Use it, and understand just a little bit more about how the world works.
Expand your knowledge and learn something new every day with the DailyBrain app.
It features an extensive collection of random and weird facts – many of which you probably didn’t know.
Price:Free ($0.99 without ads)
DailyArt is an app that shows you one masterwork every day, complete with a mini-art history lesson.
Getting a daily dose of visual art will do more than make you a font of wisdom at museums. We’ve seen that looking at art seems to engage the mind and increase blood flowto the parts of the brain that process pleasure. But preliminary research suggests that exposure to art might also help boost critical thinking skills.
And if looking at art daily inspires you to make some of your own, so much the better: one study showed that people who participated in drawing workshops showed increased psychological resilience and better “functional connectivity” compared to their non-drawing peers.
Price: Free (PRO version $4.99)
- Kahn Academy
One surefire way to beef up your brain: learn something new. Khan Academy offers thousands of free videos and articles on a vast array of topics, from algebra and macroeconomics to art history and music notation.
Not only do you walk away with a deeper knowledge of finance/architecture/you name it, you’ll benefit from the process of learning. Learning new skills – any new skills – may actually rewire your brain, enhancing memory and boosting your verbal intelligence.
While the science of Lumosity’s brain trainer (and brain training in general) is still up for debate, some researchers maintain that the timed exercises really do stretch your cognitive abilities – and that the benefits are, in fact, transferable to the rest of your life.
A splashy 2008 study suggested that training your short-term memory could gain you lasting IQ points. But those findings haven’t been replicated, and other studies suggest that all brain training games do is improve your skill at playing brain training games.
But even the skeptics aren’t necessarily convinced that the games have no merit, and some scientists stand by the idea that at least some methods of brain training could have a real effect.