Video Games as Cognitive Enhancers

Adam Gazzaley

Neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley of UCSF presents convincing data to suggest that video games can improve cognitive functioning in people of all ages, due to increasing performance based on training and generalization of learning in three limiting areas of:

• Processing speed
• Attention
• Working memory

Training in one skill has been shown in previous research not to generalize to other skills, so Gazzaley’s lab investigated whether training with video games can generalize to improve the brain’s three limitations (above).

His recent work has confirmed this trend, and next studies are intended to monitor generalizability to Activities of Daily Living such as shopping and finding directions.

Training may be strategic, to instruct in “tips” to manage challenging situations, as in occupational therapy or physical therapy or plasticity-based, using repetition, feedback, adaptive adjustment of difficulty based on performance.

Medal of Honor, a first person shooter game, proved more effective than Tetris or crossword puzzles in counteracting the brain’s three limitations (above).

Most effective games are:
• Fast-paced
• Unpredictable
• Engaging, immersive
• Provide feedback
• Adjust difficulty based on performance
• Provide changes to the brain’s three limitations: working memory, attention, processing speed via interference

Cliff Nass

Mastering interference is important because research in Gazzaley’s lab as well as work by Cliff Nass of Stanford, and Daphne Bavelier, University of Rochester, confirm that attention can be impaired by internal intrusions (mind-wandering), intentional multi-tasking (for fun, diversion) or external interference through distraction or interruption (semi-intentional multi-tasking).

Distraction and interruption reduce cognitive performance when people try to multi-task.
These researchers conclude that “multi-tasking is a myth” because “task-switching” occurs instead of simultaneous processing.
They note that task-switching (also important in driving skills) becomes slower with age, but can be improved through training on video games like Neuroracer.

Daphne Bavelier

Bavelier demonstrated that video gamers show improved skills in visual perception (contrast sensitivity, resolve small detail in context of clutter, resolve different levels of threat), attention (retain focus, less distractable).
In addition, these skills can generalize to improvements in other “real-world skills” like spatial cognition.

Skilled gamers’ have efficient neural firings and in different areas of the brain than in less adept individuals, similar to a trend seen among musicians vs non-musicians.
fMRI studies have demonstrated that gamers’ brain structures actually change in brain networks that control attention:

• Parietal cortex – orienting attention
• Frontal lobe – maintaining attention
• Anterior cingulate –allocate, regulate attention, resolve conflicts
Your brains on action games

Games may be recommended for people of all ages to enhance cognition as further research findings add to these trends in the next decade.

Videogames as cognitive neurotherapeutics
Brain – Memory and Multitasking
Exercising Your Brain
Memory and the Aging Brain
The Distracted Mind

-*How have you used game-based training to strengthen your brain functioning?
-*How effective is multi-tasking in your work organization?

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