Mattel Mindflex Game: Brain-controlled Neuro-Toy
Who says neuroscience can’t be fun? The toy giant Mattel makes Mindflex, a toy that lets players control a ping pong ball with their brain waves. I wrote about the toy way back in 2009, and was surprised to find it was still selling. It seemed like a gimmick when introduced, and I didn’t expect it to last very long. The toy’s very longevity suggests that it must do something people find interesting.
I first learned of the product via Brad Stone’s blog post at the NY Times. He described it:
A player straps on a headset that is designed to read theta brainwaves, typically associated with alertness and concentration. By focusing or relaxing, the player can control the speed of a fan that elevates a lightweight purple ball, and then must try to turn a knob by hand to guide the ball through various hoops in an obstacle course. [From BITS at NYTimes.com – Mattel Channels Obi-Wan: “Stretch Out With Your Feelings” by Brad Stone.]
Stone’s attempt to make the ball negotiate the hoops was, unfortunately, unsuccessful. Whether Stone hadn’t spent enough time meditating in a Tibetan monastery or the Mindflex toy was having a bad day is unknown.
Does Mindflex Work?
The premise of a mind-controlled toy is bound to induce some skepticism. So, I turned to crowdsourced information: Amazon Reviews. The Mindflex Amazon listing shows 290 reviews, not a small number but not very many for a product that has been around as long as Mindflex has. The average is 3.9 stars, not sterling but also indicative of many satisfied customers. Ratings were clustered at the ends of the spectrum, with 62% rating it five stars and 17% one star. People either loved or hated Mindflex, with the former outnumbering the latter by 3.6 to 1.
Amazon’s AI-generated summary of the reviews shows this duality:
Customers like the fun and concentration aspects of the game. They mention that it is a great game and really makes you concentrate. They are also happy with appearance. However, some customers have reported issues with the quality of the product.
The top review is from a Ph.D. in Behavioral Psychology, Scott Herbst. 835 customers rated the review as helpful, a rather astounding number for a lower volume product. Herbst said,
So why am I recommending this toy? Because studies have shown that if you can increase frontal lobe activity through exercises like this, you can increase objective measures of concentration (e.g., amount of time engaged with a task) and decrease measures of impulsivity. And not just for the task where the skill was trained. So a child who got adept at playing this game should also pay better attention in school, likely increase their reading comprehension, do better on homework, etc.
The one-star reviews complained about the limited functionality (moving a ball up and down) and that kids got bored with it.
Mindflex Duel with Dual Controllers
A couple of years after the launch of Mindflex, Mattel introduced Mindflex Duel that lets two players compete or cooperate in a variety of challenges. Single player mode is also available. This video shows some of the game’s functions:
The ratings at Amazon are similar to the basic unit – 3.8 stars. The commentary is a little different, as Amazon summarizes:
Customers like the fun of the game, saying that it keeps the kids busy for hours. They also like the focus, and stress control. However, some customers dislike the volume and have different opinions on quality, performance, value, and ease of use.
Should I Buy Mattel Mindflex or Mindflex Duel?
The two Mindflex games could be a fun addition to holiday gatherings. The idea of controlling something with just your mind is compelling, and neuroscience geeks will find it amusing. The Mindflex Duel seems to be the more engaging of the two (One review mentions kids playing it for hours), but comes at nearly twice the price. The vast majority of customers say they like it, but a significant minority of reviewers either had problems making it work or just didn’t enjoy playing with it. If Mindflex would blow your entire holiday gift budget, it might be too risky of a purchase.
On the other hand, Amazon’s generous return policies eliminate most of the risk.
My take: If a big brand like Mattel has kept the product alive for almost 15 years, they must believe in it.