Non-action video-game playing may enhance specific cognitive skills

Regular game play improves performance on tasks that use mental processes similar to those in those video games
March 15, 2013

(Credit: Big Fish Games)

Playing video games for an hour each day can improve subsequent performance on cognitive tasks that use mental processes similar to those involved in the game, according to research published March 13 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Previous evidence points to a causal link between playing action video games and enhanced cognition and perception. But what about the benefits of playing other types of video games?
Adam Chie-Ming Oei and Michael Donald Patterson of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore decided to find out. They asked non-gamer participants to play five different games on their smartphones for an hour a day, five days of the week for one month.

Each participant was assigned one game. Some played games like Bejeweled, where participants matched three identical objects, or an agent-based virtual life simulation like The Sims, while others played action games or had to find hidden objects, as in Hidden Expedition.

After this month of “training,” the researchers found that people who had played the action game had improved their capacity to track multiple objects in a short span of time, while participants who played games involving finding hidden objects, matching three objects, and spatial memory improved their performance on visual search tasks.

The authors say this is the first study to compare multiple video games in a single study and showed that different skills can be improved by playing different games.

The authors concluded that:
  • Cognitive improvements were not limited to action game training alone
  • Different games enhanced different aspects of cognition.
  • Training specific cognitive abilities in a video game improves performance in tasks that share common underlying demands.
  • Many video-game-related cognitive improvements may not be due to training of general broad cognitive systems such as executive attentional control, but instead due to frequent utilization of specific cognitive processes during game play.

This research was supported by a grant from DSO National Laboratories, Singapore’s equivalent to DARPA.