Researchers Scientifically Create Video Games To Benefit Cognitive Function

from the good-not-bad dept

For those of us of a certain age, where you're the right age to have grown up with video games as a staple of your youth entertainment experience while your parents basically grew up without them, the generational divide when it comes to gaming could not possibly be more stark. It is my belief that a great deal of the ongoing debate about whether there are harmful effects from playing video games is probably about to simply disappear as that parental generation begins to shove off this mortal experience. Gaming, after all, has been blamed for all sorts of things, even as research is starting to trickle in which suggests that video gaming in particular may have health benefits and is otherwise part of a healthy staple of entertainment experiences.

That research will only get better and more prevalent as both video games become a larger staple of entertainment consumption in our culture and as a younger generation of researchers with an interest in the topic come of age. One example of that can be seen in the work done by NYU professor Jan Plass, who's team didn't even both trying to tackle whether video games are good or bad for people, but instead took a scientific approach to simply create games that are designed to benefit cognitive behavior.

University professors from New York and California designed and developed three digital games – available online and in the iOS and Google Play app stores – to help its users’ brains work more efficiently. While some digital games falsely claim to improve cognitive skills, these three games have actually proven to. Evidenced through a series of research studies, these games can help users boost memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility.

“Can games actually have positive effects on players? We believe they can, and we designed three games to support learners in developing cognitive skills that researchers have identified as essential for success in daily life, executive functions,“ said Jan L. Plass, Paulette Goddard Professor of Digital Media and Learning Sciences at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture Education and Human Development and co-creator of the games.

Those executive functions are inhibitory control (attention span), working memory (cognitive processing), and cognitive flexibility (multi-tasking). Each game specifically works backwards from the goal of improving those functions and consists of tasks specifically meant to train the brain.

What does this show? Well, at a bare minimum it demonstrates that the effect a game has on a person has nothing to do with the medium itself and has everything to do with the construction of the game and what it is designed to achieve. This isn't terribly nuanced and likely seems obvious to most of us, but it is certainly a refutation of the trope that "video games are bad" that far too many people still have. Games aren't bad. Games are games. Just as there is good television and books, as well as "bad" or empty calorie television and books, so too is it with video games.

And, to be clear, the science indicates that these games work.

In addition to developing the games, Plass, Homer and Mayer published eight research articles reporting on the effectiveness of these games.

“We found replicated evidence across multiple experiments that playing our games for two hours causes improvements in executive function skills as compared to a control group that plays an unrelated game,” said Mayer. “This is one of the few scientific experiments showing the benefits of game-based training on executive function skills such as being able to shift from one task to another or being able to keep track of a series of events. This work shows the benefits of designing games based on the cognitive theory of game-based training.”

Whatever is true about video games, it sure isn't that they are "bad", full stop. Instead, there are different kinds of games that create different kinds of cognitive effects. If we could all approach the topic with that as the baseline from now on, the conversations we have will be far more productive.

Filed Under: cognitive functions, jan plass, video games


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  • identicon
    christenson, 22 Jan 2020 @ 7:56pm

    MasterType typing tutor of yore...

    Anyone else remember MasterType, where you typed out words to shoot down the incoming spaceships????

    Seems a lot like space invaders, except you become a fast and accurate typist to get the rewards! (It did help that I had learned to touch type a few years earlier)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      OGquaker, 23 Jan 2020 @ 7:37pm

      Re: Pre yore yore...

      War contributes to young people's health, a slouch like me came out of Basic as quite a buff specimen, gained rank through my newly acquired bureaucratic cunning and spent half my US Army 'tour' living back at home, giving physicals to young girls on Wilshire Boulevard as a 91U-20 (eye ear nose & throat). 70% of my Company went strait to Vietnam, thus the 'science' behind this result needs more blind tests.
      I don't know if good video games killing strangers half way around the world from Nellis AFB in NV makes War healthier, but I doubt it. The US Air Force invented a special medal for remote drone strike operators https://www.militarytimes.com/2016/01/06/dod-rejects-nintendo-medal-for-drone-pilots-and-cyber-warri ors/

      P.S. I have know idea how to spell "strait", and Bill Gates does not eather.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rocky, 22 Jan 2020 @ 10:53pm

    The Insight Project

    Regarding games and cognitive function, Ninja Theory (which made Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice) have started The Insight Project together with Cambridge University to explore game design combined with clinical neuroscience as a way to alleviate mental stress.

    I think games are excellent tools for these types of projects and we are currently only scratching the surface of what's possible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2020 @ 4:40am

    And, to be clear, the science indicates that these games work.

    Tim I have a minor grip about this sentence (no, I am not some inflexible 4th grade English teacher, I don't care that you started it with a conjunction).

    The problem I have is that the sentence uses 'science' as an active subject. This suggests science actually supports the conclusion. It does not, science does not support anything, it's a methodology. The research, which (hopefully) stands up to scientific rigger, supports the idea that is works. At least I think that's what you meant.

    The reason why I am complaining about this is fairly simple. I've seen lots of other people say "But science says..." or "That's not scientific..." both of which are silly. Science was not originally some religious set of beliefs that people followed. However it seems people are becoming more confused about it.

    I am sure that's not how you intended to use the word, but the issue I take is that it lends credibility to other peoples misconceptions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      mcinsand, 23 Jan 2020 @ 6:26am

      If I might make a few suggestions

      AC, you might want to get a dictionary.

      I took a look at four dictionaries before responding, just to make sure that I didn't readily see one that has the sort of confining definition of science that you use. Science as an active body of knowledge is accepted use, and that body of knowledge does serve as an active subject.

      You might want to get a 'grip' on a couple of other definitions, as well, such as 'grip' versus 'gripe,' and 'riggers' versus 'rigors.'

      Regards

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2020 @ 7:09am

        Re: If I might make a few suggestions

        Bah. That's exactly what I get for being overly reliant on spellcheck software.

        Thanks. :/

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        urza9814 (profile), 23 Jan 2020 @ 8:32am

        Re: If I might make a few suggestions

        I strongly believe that you misunderstand which "body of knowledge" the dictionaries are referring to.

        "This video game improves your memory" isn't part of the body of knowledge that is science. Rather, that body of knowledge contains things like "After playing this video game for m minutes, this research team observed a decrease of t seconds in performing task x for y% of subjects tested." The conclusions drawn from the study are not facts, they are not proven, they are not science. They are interpretations of science. If you want to get REALLY pedantic, I would argue that science ultimately only says that these researchers CLAIMED those results, since you can't necessarily be certain that they performed the study exactly as claimed.

        Science doesn't say things like "video games improve your memory". At best, science indicates these things, within some statistical probability.

        This does matter. You hear it all the time -- "Science used to say X, now it says Y", often used as a justification to ignore some inconvenient research or discovery. But the truth is that science never said X or Y, the evidence pointed towards X, then we got new evidence that started to point towards Y. Or the people interpreting the science originally screwed up. But the body of knowledge that is science itself never changed. People see it as a complete reversal of a proven fact rather than an increasingly nuanced picture, because someone told them it was a "fact" proven by "science" when it wasn't.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Your High School English Teacher, 23 Jan 2020 @ 9:22am

      Re:

      Language is dynamic and is changing all the time. Challenging that is futile and pedantic.

      That said, let's change a noun into a verb. Lets see, how about ....
      ..... This languaging is frustrating for sure.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2020 @ 9:38am

        Re: Re:

        That said, let's change a noun into a verb

        google, impact, increase, insult, object, conflict, attribute, research, etc...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2020 @ 10:10am

        Re: Re:

        Language can change all the masses want, but that's doesn't make lies true

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        teka, 23 Jan 2020 @ 10:37am

        Re: Re:

        me words good. best.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2020 @ 1:58pm

        Re: Re:

        Well, fuck science then, at the very least, if language can just meany any fucking thing because some people popularize a usage.

        It doesn't matter that they are conceptually wrong, what only matters is everyone's opinion is equal and "language evolves".

        Please tell Science, so it can stop using rigorous definitions and methods so that output using the scientific method actually means anything.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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