Give Your Brain A Boost By Playing Video Games
August 21, 2013

Give Your Brain A Boost By Playing Video Games

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A new study from scientists at Queen Mary University of London and University College London (UCL) is giving gamers a good excuse to stay hooked on their latest vice.

Researchers reported in the journal PLoS ONE that certain types of video games can help to train the brain to become more agile and improve strategic thinking. The team recruited 72 volunteers and measured their "cognitive flexibility," described as a person's ability to adapt and switch between tasks. The groups were trained to play different versions of a real-time strategy game called StarCraft or the life-simulation game The Sims.

Two-thirds of the participants played StarCraft, which is a fast-paced game where players have to construct and organize armies to battle an enemy. The other third played The Sims, which does not require much memory or many tactics.

Volunteers played the video games for 40 hours over six to eight weeks, and were subjected to a variety of psychological tests before and after. All of those who participated in the study were female, simply because the researchers were unable to recruit a sufficient number of male volunteers who played video games less than two hours a week.

The team found that those who played StarCraft were quicker and more accurate in performing cognitive flexibility tasks than those who had played The Sims.

"Previous research has demonstrated that action video games, such as Halo, can speed up decision making but the current work finds that real-time strategy games can promote our ability to think on the fly and learn from past mistakes," said Dr Brian Glass, from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

Glass said that their research shows that cognitive flexibility is not a static trait but one that can be trained and improved upon using fun learning tools like gaming.

"Cognitive flexibility varies across people and at different ages," added Professor Brad Love from UCL. "For example, a fictional character like Sherlock Holmes has the ability to simultaneously engage in multiple aspects of thought and mentally shift in response to changing goals and environmental conditions."

Love pointed out that creative problem solving and "thinking outside the box" requires cognitive flexibility.

"Perhaps in contrast to the repetitive nature of work in past centuries, the modern knowledge economy places a premium on cognitive flexibility," he added.

The team found that volunteers who played the most complex version of the video game performed the best in post-game psychological tests. Now, researchers need to better understand what it is about the games that make it an effective cognitive booster, noted Glass.

"We need to understand now what exactly about these games is leading to these changes, and whether these cognitive boosts are permanent or if they dwindle over time," he said in the statement. "Once we have that understanding, it could become possible to develop clinical interventions for symptoms related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD] or traumatic brain injuries, for example."