Does a ‘brain train­ing’ sys­tem backed by the DeVos fam­ily work?

The DeVos fam­ily’s ‘brain train­ing’ com­pany, Neu­ro­core, says it helps ev­ery­thing from ADHD to autism. Ul­rich Boser went to check it out.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - Ul­rich Boser is the au­thor of “Learn Bet­ter: Mas­ter­ing the Skills for Suc­cess in Life, Busi­ness, and School, or, How to Be­come an Ex­pert in Just About Any­thing” and a se­nior fel­low at the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress. Twit­ter: @ul­rich­boser

Atech­ni­cian snapped a stretchy elec­trode cap onto my head, and I felt a cold pinch as she af­fixed each sen­sor to my scalp with a dose of icy gel. Perched on an of­fice chair, with a rain­bow of wires spi­ral­ing from my head, I fol­lowed the tech’s in­struc­tions to stare at a small orange ob­ject while an EEG record­ing de­vice mea­sured the elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity in var­i­ous re­gions of my brain.

I was check­ing out the Palm Beach Gar­dens, Fla., branch of Neu­ro­core, a “brain per­for­mance” com­pany owned by the fam­ily of Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos. DeVos re­signed her Neu­ro­core board seat when she joined the Trump Cab­i­net, but she and her hus­band main­tain a fi­nan­cial stake of be­tween $5 mil­lion and $25 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to a fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure state­ment filed with the Of­fice of Gov­ern­ment Ethics. The DeVoses’ pri­vate-eq­uity firm, Windquest, iden­ti­fies Neu­ro­core as part of its “cor­po­rate fam­ily.” The Windquest web­site posts Neu­ro­core news and in­cludes links for job seek­ers to ap­ply to Neu­ro­core open­ings.

In other words, the fam­ily has a lot rid­ing on Neu­ro­core’s claims that it can help you “train your brain to func­tion bet­ter” — ad­dress­ing prob­lems as di­verse as at­ten­tion-deficit/hy­per­ac­tiv­ity dis­or­der, autism, anx­i­ety, stress, de­pres­sion, poor sleep, mem­ory loss and mi­graines. “Un­like med­i­ca­tion, which tem­po­rar­ily masks your symp­toms, neu­ro­feed­back pro­motes healthy changes in your brain to pro­vide you with a last­ing so­lu­tion,” touts a Neu­ro­core over­view video. “. . . We’ve helped thou­sands of peo­ple strengthen their brain to achieve a happy, health­ier, more pro­duc­tive life for years to come.” The com­pany cur­rently has nine of­fices in Michi­gan and Florida, though there’s been talk of mak­ing a na­tional move.

When the DeVos-Neu­ro­core con­nec­tion made head­lines dur­ing her con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings, I was skep­ti­cal of the com­pany’s claims. I had come across brain train­ing while work­ing on a book, “Learn Bet­ter,” about the sci­ence of learn­ing. The field is rife with vague and overblown prom­ises. Last year, the cre­ators of Lu­mos­ity paid a $2 mil­lion fine to the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion to set­tle a com­plaint that they de­cep­tively ad­ver­tised that their mem­ory ex­er­cises could im­prove ev­ery­day per­for­mance and stave off mem­ory loss.

Neu­ro­core hasn’t been sub­ject to any fed­eral com­plaints, chief ex­ec­u­tive Mark Mur­ri­son told me. But my im­pres­sion was that the com­pany’s premise runs counter to an im­mense body of re­search sug­gest­ing that the hu­man brain isn’t all that train­able. Study upon study has failed to sup­port a game or a tool that can boost in­tel­lec­tual RAM.

So what is our ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary do­ing in­vest­ing mil­lions in a brain per­for­mance firm? I couldn’t find any pub­lic re­marks by DeVos about Neu­ro­core or brain train­ing. Her spokesman at the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion did not re­spond to my re­quests for com­ment. But in Jan­uary, Neu­ro­core’s chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer, Ma­jid Fo­tuhi, as­serted to the New York Times that “Betsy DeVos re­ally be­lieves in im­prov­ing brain per­for­mance and help­ing chil­dren who have syn­dromes such as at­ten­tion deficit dis­or­der.”

I wanted to un­der­stand what Neu­ro­core was about.

On a sunny morn­ing last month, I found the Palm Beach Gar­dens Neu­ro­core cen­ter in a high-end strip mall, a few steps from a raw juice bar, a sleek ex­er­cise stu­dio and a sa­lon ded­i­cated to blowouts.

A Neu­ro­core re­cep­tion­ist greeted me for my sched­uled ap­point­ment and had me fill out a sur­vey ask­ing about my sleep, con­cen­tra­tion and so­cial in­ter­ac­tions. Do I wake up in the mid­dle of the night? How of­ten do I get into ar­gu­ments? That sort of thing. (When I signed up for the eval­u­a­tion, I listed my pro­fes­sion as “au­thor.” My em­ployer, the ad­mit­tedly left­lean­ing think tank Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, paid for my trip to Florida and the $250 eval­u­a­tion.)

Next, a “client ad­vo­cate” wear­ing a cor­po­rate-is­sued orange shirt and khakis led me into a small of­fice and set me up with a com­put­er­based as­sess­ment of at­ten­tion and im­pulse con­trol. I had to click when­ever I heard or saw the num­ber 1 and avoid re­act­ing when­ever I heard or saw a 2. It was bor­ing, by de­sign.

Af­ter that came tests of my blood pres­sure, heart rate vari­abil­ity and breath­ing pat­terns. Then the EEG, which was sup­posed to as­sess whether my neu­ral ac­tiv­ity was too high (which can in­di­cate stress and anx­i­ety) or too low (which can in­di­cate drowsi­ness and inat­ten­tion).

It was while I waited for my re­sults that I got to peek at the in­ner sanc­tum of Neu­ro­core: the train­ing room.

It looked a bit like a pri­vate movie the­ater — dark, with cushy, high-backed chairs. I could see clients wear­ing head­sets and sen­sors while watch­ing films on per­sonal screens. One movie starred Jim Car­rey. An­other fea­tured Chris Pratt.

Neu­ro­core train­ing re­lies on a com­bi­na­tion of two biofeed­back strate­gies. The ap­proach the com­pany em­pha­sizes — neu­ro­feed­back — seeks to help peo­ple “op­ti­mize” the elec­tri­cal im­pulses of their brains; the sec­ond ap­proach aims to slow their breath­ing rate and steady their heart rate. As a tech­ni­cian ex­plained it to me: When the brain sen­sors in­di­cate too much or too lit­tle ac­tiv­ity dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion, the film will pause, and you have to shift your brain ac­tiv­ity — by try­ing to relax or make your­self more alert — to start the film again. Sim­i­larly, if you start to breathe too fast or your breath­ing rate fluc­tu­ates, the movie screen size will shrink. I watched one woman’s movie de­crease from full-screen mode down to about the size of a cell­phone be­fore she coached it back to nor­mal again.

Even­tu­ally, I met with Rachel Martin, a Neu­ro­core clin­i­cal spe­cial­ist with a master’s in so­cial work. Martin is one of the co-au­thors of a study con­ducted by Neu­ro­core and pub­lished in the lat­est is­sue of the jour­nal Neu­roReg­u­la­tion. She said she was in Palm Beach Gar­dens to help get the rel­a­tively new branch go­ing.

In a room with blank walls save for a large flat-screen mon­i­tor, Martin pre­sented a print­out of my re­sults.

The first page fea­tured a pie chart based on my self-re­ported sleep data. My “over­all sleep qual­ity” was at 52 per­cent, the chart said. As Martin char­ac­ter­ized it, there were “op­por­tu­ni­ties for im­prove­ment.” “So you’re say­ing it’s bad?” I asked. “I’ve worked in a lot of cus­tomer ser­vice jobs,” she told me. They “never use the word ‘bad.’ ”

A few pages later, I was in the red on charts for blood pres­sure and heart rate vari­abil­ity, tag­ging me as hy­per­ten­sive and at high risk for stress-in­duced dis­eases. That was some­thing of a sur­prise, since my doc­tor typ­i­cally de­clares me to be pretty healthy. But my Neu­ro­core visit came at a time of an­guish: My fa­ther had died a week ear­lier. Maybe the tests picked up on my grief?

As we con­tin­ued through the re­sults, Martin noted that I had a deficit when it came to fo­cus, vig­i­lance and at­ten­tion.

“So does this mean that I have ADHD?” I asked. For as long as I can re­mem­ber, I’ve had the at­ten­tion span of a cocker spaniel, and I spent some time in special ed­u­ca­tion as a boy. In other words, an ADHD di­ag­no­sis would not have been an eye-opener.

Martin avoided a for­mal di­ag­no­sis. But she pointed to re­gions of the brain as­so­ci­ated with at­ten­tion, not­ing that my brain had per­formed weakly in those ar­eas.

She rec­om­mended a brain train­ing pack­age of 30 twice-a-week ses­sions of 45 min­utes each. At Neu­ro­core, that would carry a price tag of more than $2,000. Since Martin knew that I lived in D.C., she rec­om­mended some other neu­ro­feed­back cen­ters in Wash­ing­ton. (Like many in­sur­ers, my car­rier, CareFirst, does not cover neu­ro­feed­back.)

If I en­gaged in Neu­ro­core-style treatment, Martin said, “my guess is that it would be eas­ier for you to process things. If you had a big stack of pa­pers or ar­ti­cles, you could get through them faster.” “Re­ally?” I asked. Martin nod­ded. “It will make your think­ing clearer. You’ll solve prob­lems more eas­ily,” she said. “You’ll have less of that ‘brain fog.’ ”

They don’t rec­om­mend ev­ery­one they as­sess for treatment, Mur­ri­son, the chief ex­ec­u­tive, later told me. “If peo­ple’s brains look solid, we tell them they look solid,” he said. But the “great ma­jor­ity” of peo­ple who come into their of­fices can ben­e­fit, he added. Peo­ple are look­ing for “brain tune-ups.”

I could un­der­stand the ap­peal. Who doesn’t want to be able to process things faster? Think more clearly? Solve prob­lems with less ef­fort?

Afew days later, I shared my Neu­ro­core re­sults with Rus­sell Barkley, a psy­chi­a­try pro­fes­sor at Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Uni­ver­sity and a spe­cial­ist in ADHD.

Barkley was blunt. “We do NOT rec­om­mend [EEG] tests be used for di­ag­nos­tic pur­poses,” he wrote in a fol­low-up email. “Their level of im­pre­ci­sion and even in­ac­cu­racy in di­ag­no­sis is too prob­lem­atic to do so.”

For one thing, it’s hard to es­tab­lish a use­ful base­line. “The clin­i­cian doesn’t know if you are sleep-de­prived,” Barkley said. “The clin­i­cian doesn’t know if you had two or three cock­tails the night be­fore.”

It’s also not to­tally clear that unusu­ally slow or fast brain ac­tiv­ity is a symp­tom of a dis­or­der. It could be a sign of your brain com­pen­sat­ing for some­thing — maybe a past in­jury — and so try­ing to get your neu­ral ac­tiv­ity to look more “nor­mal” could ac­tu­ally make your brain func­tion worse.

Barkley was even less kind to­ward neu­ro­feed­back as a way to boost over­all at­ten­tion. While he con­ceded that peo­ple can in­flu­ence their brain ac­tiv­ity through ded­i­cated train­ing — there’s fairly ro­bust sci­ence on that — he didn’t think that train­ing would pro­duce mean­ing­ful changes, and cer­tainly would not cure some­thing like ADHD. “I can train you to tighten your sphinc­ter mus­cles. So what?” Barkley told me. “That might be just as good for stress.”

To sup­port its ap­proach, Neu­ro­core cites a bevy of stud­ies. But as I dug into this re­search, I found that a good num­ber of them weren’t much higher in qual­ity than a high school sci­ence ex­per­i­ment.

In March, a team of Neu­ro­core staffers, in­clud­ing Martin, pub­lished the first study of their ther­apy reg­i­men in Neu­roReg­u­la­tion, a peer-re­viewed jour­nal as­so­ci­ated with the In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety of Neu­ro­feed­back and Re­search. “Peer-re­viewed,” in this case, might sug­gest more author­ity than the jour­nal de­serves. Its ed­i­tor, Rex Can­non, is him­self in­volved in the brain train­ing busi­ness, de­vel­op­ing neu­ro­feed­back pro­to­cols for out­lets in South Florida. The jour­nal once pub­lished re­search that found dark choco­late can boost at­ten­tion — re­search spon­sored by Her­shey’s.

The Neu­ro­core study con­cludes that 82.8 per­cent of clients with symp­toms of anx­i­ety and 81.1 per­cent of clients with symp­toms of de­pres­sion saw “im­prove­ments of clin­i­cal im­por­tance.” Even more im­pres­sive, the ma­jor­ity of those who ini­tially came in seem­ing anx­ious or de­pressed could be con­sid­ered “nor­mal” af­ter treatment.

This was far from gold- or even bronze-stan­dard re­search, though. For the study, Neu­ro­core ex­am­ined the files of past clients, mean­ing staffers would have told the study sub­jects about their base­line re­sults and how train­ing was sup­posed to help them, just as in my ex­pe­ri­ence. The au­thors also did not sep­a­rate the ef­fects of neu­ro­feed­back vs. heart rate vari­abil­ity train­ing, so there’s no way to know if neu­ro­feed­back alone would have done any­thing. And the im­prove­ment of clients’ de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety was mea­sured in terms of self-re­ported symp­toms. It seems likely that peo­ple who had just dropped $2,000 on a treatment would want to note that they had im­proved in some way.

If that wasn’t du­bi­ous enough, there was no con­trol group to es­tab­lish how the Neu­ro­core regime com­pared with placebo treat­ments or the cur­rent stan­dards of care for de­pres­sion or anx­i­ety. This makes it hard to say the ap­proach ac­tu­ally helped any­one. “These re­sults don’t nec­es­sar­ily im­ply that feed­back or train­ing im­proves out­comes,” Ryan Moore, an ex­pert in re­search meth­ods at Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity, wrote in an email. “Maybe the par­tic­i­pants would have im­proved nat­u­rally over time. Maybe they would have im­proved just by virtue of mak­ing 30 vis­its to a cen­ter and hav­ing 30 friendly chats with cen­ter staff.”

I asked Neu­ro­core’s Mur­ri­son why the study didn’t rely on com­monly ac­cepted sci­en­tific meth­ods, such as us­ing a con­trol group. He brushed off my con­cerns. “This would not pass the muster of higher-level clin­i­cal stud­ies — that’s not the in­tent,” Mur­ri­son said. “We are not a re­search firm. We are try­ing to demon­strate how well we are pro­vid­ing our ser­vices to our clients.”

There are sim­i­lar prob­lems with some of the third-party stud­ies Neu­ro­core cites. An­other seem­ingly im­pres­sive in­ves­ti­ga­tion sug­gests that brain train­ing in­ter­ven­tions might in­crease IQ by an av­er­age of 12 points. But that study is al­most 20 years old, had no con­trol group and in­cluded only 55 sub­jects.

The seven stud­ies cited on the com­pany’s web­site that sup­pos­edly show that its ap­proach will cure de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety? Two of the stud­ies didn’t ac­tu­ally look at neu­ro­feed­back, the com­pany’s sell­ing point. In­stead, they ex­am­ined the re­la­tion­ship be­tween heart rate and de­pres­sion. An­other four had fewer than two dozen par­tic­i­pants.

While some early eval­u­a­tions of neu­ro­feed­back un­cov­ered pos­i­tive re­sults, more re­cent re­search, us­ing more rig­or­ous meth­ods, has shown lit­tle to no ef­fects. A meta-anal­y­sis of 13 dif­fer­ent neu­ro­feed­back stud­ies with more than 500 sub­jects pub­lished last year in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Academy of Child and Ado­les­cent Psy­chi­a­try con­cludes, “Ev­i­dence from well-con­trolled tri­als with prob­a­bly blinded out­comes cur­rently fails to sup­port neu­ro­feed­back as an ef­fec­tive treatment for ADHD.”

When I asked Neu­ro­core’s Martin if the com­pany is promis­ing more than the cur­rent sci­ence sup­ports, she replied, “Although we are con­fi­dent in the high stan­dard of care we pro­vide, we are also very care­ful not to over­promise.” She also noted that some of the au­thors of that re­cent meta-anal­y­sis had re­ceived speak­ing fees or re­search sup­port from phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies that make ADHD drugs.

To be clear, the sci­ence on neu­ro­feed­back is far from fi­nal. Large, rig­or­ous, long-term stud­ies could still show that brain train­ing is an ef­fec­tive way to treat some of the con­di­tions Neu­ro­core is tar­get­ing, such as at­ten­tion and anx­i­ety is­sues. Maybe Neu­ro­core’s meth­ods will even be shown to boost over­all cog­ni­tive horse­power. As Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity psy­chi­a­trist Matthew Sac­chet wrote to me via email, “The sci­en­tific com­mu­nity has def­i­nitely not reached con­sen­sus on the util­ity of neu­ro­feed­back.”

But right now, main­stream med­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions are steer­ing clear. Mark Wol­raich, di­rec­tor of the Child Study Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­sity of Ok­la­homa Health Sciences Cen­ter, re­viewed the re­search for the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics in 2011, and he told me that “there was not suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence for the AAP to en­dorse neu­ro­feed­back.”

What Neu­ro­core and sim­i­lar op­er­a­tions are do­ing, then, is sim­ply mis­us­ing sci­ence. By mak­ing claims based on flimsy re­search, they’re mis­lead­ing peo­ple.

Just as dis­con­cert­ing, many brain train­ing firms ac­tively dis­miss high-qual­ity in­ter­ven­tions as weak or mis­guided. Re­call that line in the Neu­ro­core video: “Un­like med­i­ca­tion, which tem­po­rar­ily masks your symp­toms, neu­ro­feed­back pro­motes healthy changes in your brain to pro­vide you with a last­ing so­lu­tion.” Neu­ro­core founder Tim Royer once tweeted, “#Meds keep us from fix­ing the real prob­lem” and com­pared us­ing them to re­spond­ing to an en­gine malfunction with duct tape. The com­pany sets up its re­cent study by stat­ing that many peo­ple with anx­i­ety or de­pres­sion “do not gain sat­is­fac­tory re­sults from phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ap­proaches . . . which fur­ther­more cause sub­stan­tial side ef­fects.”

But this view dis­counts in­ter­ven­tions that have been proved to work. There’s a rich lit­er­a­ture sup­port­ing med­i­ca­tions for peo­ple with de­pres­sion or ADHD, and strate­gies such as cog­ni­tive be­hav­ioral ther­apy have shown pos­i­tive ef­fects in many stud­ies of anx­i­ety. Ben­e­fi­cial in­ter­ven­tions don’t have to in­volve drugs or doc­tors, ei­ther — ex­er­cise has demon­strated it­self to be very help­ful for anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion. (Un­sur­pris­ingly, most in­surance com­pa­nies cover well-val­i­dated ap­proaches, mak­ing them far less pricey op­tions.)

So what does it say that our ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary is back­ing Neu­ro­core? For one, it seems that fee­ble sci­ence doesn’t bother DeVos. The bud­get doc­u­ment released by her depart­ment on Tues­day em­pha­sizes that ed­u­ca­tion de­ci­sions should be in­formed by “reli­able data, strong re­search, and rig­or­ous eval­u­a­tions.” But like her boss, Pres­i­dent Trump, DeVos ap­par­ently isn’t one to let ev­i­dence get in the way of what she wants to do. A re­cent study of school vouch­ers by DeVos’s agency showed that one pro­gram dragged down math scores by as much as seven points. Still, DeVos cham­pi­ons voucher pro­grams, dis­miss­ing her op­po­nents this past week as “flatearthers.”

We don’t yet have any in­di­ca­tion that DeVos in­tends to in­tro­duce neu­ro­feed­back into the na­tion’s pub­lic schools. But her enor­mous in­vest­ment in Neu­ro­core is eth­i­cally in­ap­pro­pri­ate. It means she has a fi­nan­cial stake in a par­tic­u­lar ap­proach to ed­u­ca­tion. Some brain train­ing com­pa­nies pro­mote them­selves specif­i­cally for the class­room, and a few K-12 schools have be­gun part­ner­ing with brain train­ing com­pa­nies. Oaks Chris­tian School in Cal­i­for­nia pro­vides neu­ro­feed­back with the help of an out­side ven­dor, and Univer­sal Academy in Dal­las re­cently signed a con­tract with the firm C8 Sciences (which prom­ises that it “can close the achieve­ment gap in low per­form­ing schools and en­hance fo­cus, mem­ory, and self-con­trol to greatly im­prove aca­demic out­comes!”). For his part, Mur­ri­son de­nies that Neu­ro­core has any plan to go into schools. But the com­pany’s mar­ket­ing clearly tar­gets chil­dren — and their dis­tressed par­ents.

And cer­tainly the DeVos fam­ily has used its con­nec­tions be­fore to open doors for Neu­ro­core. DeVos’s fa­ther-in-law owns the Or­lando Magic, and the bas­ket­ball team has hired a di­vi­sion of Neu­ro­core “to reach per­for­mance lev­els not pre­vi­ously achieved,” ac­cord­ing to the com­pany. Quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins’s brother works for Neu­ro­core, and the Wash­ing­ton foot­ball player swears by neu­ro­feed­back. “I see brain train­ing as be­ing that next thing, the next fron­tier,” he says on one of the com­pany’s pro­mo­tional pages.

At the very least, DeVos ap­pears to be dan­ger­ously naive about what it takes to help peo­ple learn — es­pe­cially chil­dren with special needs.

Brain train­ing com­pa­nies use the ve­neer of sci­ence to prom­ise ef­fort­less fixes. In the case of Neu­ro­core, the firm claims that the in­ter­ven­tion is “easy,” just a mat­ter of watch­ing TV in its of­fices a cou­ple of times a week. Other com­pa­nies ped­dle games, promis­ing that some on­line di­ver­sions can boost in­tel­lect.

But as I wrote in my book on the sci­ence of learn­ing, gain­ing ex­per­tise of any kind is dif­fi­cult. In­deed, some re­searchers, such as psy­chol­o­gist Lisa Son, be­lieve that more dif­fi­cult forms of learn­ing are bet­ter forms of learn­ing. This ex­plains why quizzing your­self has been shown to be far more ef­fec­tive than re-read­ing at help­ing peo­ple un­der­stand and re­tain in­for­ma­tion: It makes the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence a lit­tle more stren­u­ous.

The same is true for treat­ing cog­ni­tive dis­or­ders such as ADHD or anx­i­ety: In­ter­ven­tions that work typ­i­cally cause some per­sonal strain. Ef­fec­tive treat­ments are of­ten emo­tion­ally dif­fi­cult (like talk ther­apy), re­quire a lot of per­sonal in­vest­ment (like be­hav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion), come with un­com­fort­able side ef­fects (like Ri­talin) or sim­ply take time (like work­ing out). This makes prom­ises of “fun” and “easy” so­lu­tions seem tone-deaf at best, cruel at worst.

Still, scared and an­guished par­ents, hunt­ing for hope, will open their wal­lets, even if an ap­proach has lit­tle sci­en­tific sup­port. “A lot of times in autism, fam­i­lies are so des­per­ate for an an­swer, they lit­er­ally will take a web­site as ev­i­dence” for a treatment, Tom Fra­zier, chief sci­ence of­fi­cer for Autism Speaks, told me. “It’s very con­cern­ing.”

In his book “Autism’s False Prophets,” pe­di­a­tri­cian Paul Of­fit goes fur­ther, point­ing out that un­proven claims do more than frit­ter away time and money. They can in­jure both the healthy and the al­ready sick. “The false alarm about vac­cines and autism con­tin­ues to harm a lot of chil­dren,” Of­fit writes. “Harm from not get­ting needed vac­cines, harm from po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous treat­ments to elim­i­nate mer­cury, and harm from ther­a­pies as ab­surd as testos­terone ab­la­tion and elec­tric shock.”

I’ll ad­mit that be­fore I stepped into Neu­ro­core, I had lit­tle in­ten­tion of sign­ing up for the com­pany’s treatment. I had read too many ar­ti­cles skep­ti­cal of brain train­ing to think that I should pay for its ser­vices. But it took talk­ing to ex­perts and a visit to Florida to dis­cover that the firm was also hurt­ful — a Trump Uni­ver­sity for peo­ple with cog­ni­tive strug­gles. By wrap­ping weak sci­ence in sleek pack­ag­ing, by promis­ing some­thing that it can­not fully de­liver, Neu­ro­core of­fers false hope to peo­ple who need hon­est help. In this re­gard, what’s most re­mark­able is that DeVos, the na­tion’s fore­most ped­a­gogue, is be­hind it all, pro­mot­ing a form of ed­u­ca­tion that doesn’t ac­tu­ally seem to ed­u­cate.

TOMASZ WALENTA FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

COUR­TESY OF UL­RICH BOSER The au­thor dis­cusses his Neu­ro­core ex­pe­ri­ence at wapo.st/2qnTIME

Au­thor Ul­rich Boser wears an elec­trode cap for an EEG test dur­ing his visit to Neu­ro­core’s cen­ter in Palm Beach Gar­dens, Fla. His heart rate, blood pres­sure and breath­ing pat­terns were also as­sessed.

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