Video Game Features Key to Cognitive Improvements

Emerging research suggests particular components or features of a video game appear to influence cognitive health.

Investigators explain that the specific content, dynamics, and mechanics of individual games determine their effects on the brain. As such, researchers believe action video games might have particularly positive benefits for improving cognition.

The paper appears in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, a Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences (FABBS).

“The term video games refers to thousands of quite disparate types of experiences, anything from simple computerized card games to richly detailed and realistic fantasy worlds, from a purely solitary activity to an activity including hundreds of others, etc.,” say the researchers.

They explain that a useful analogy is comparing concept of video games to the term food. In this context, one would never ask, “’What is the effect of eating food on the body?’ Instead, it is understood that the effects of a given type of food depend on the composition of the food such as the number of calories; the percentage of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; the vitamin and mineral content; and so on.”

In the study, Drs. C. Shawn Green and Aaron R. Seitz analyzed the science on the cognitive effects of video games. They explain that action video games — games that feature quickly moving targets that come in and out of view, include large amounts of clutter, and that requires the user to make rapid, accurate decisions — have particularly positive cognitive impacts, even when compared to “brain games,” which are created specifically to improve cognitive function.

“Action video games have been linked to improving attention skills, brain processing, and cognitive functions including low-level vision through high-level cognitive abilities. Many other types of games do not produce an equivalent impact on perception and cognition,” the researchers commented. “Brain games typically embody few of the qualities of the commercial video games linked with cognitive improvement.”

Green and Seitz noted that while action games in particular have not been linked to problems with sustaining attention, research has shown that total amount of video game play predicts poorer attention in the classroom.

Furthermore, video games are known to impact not only cognitive function, but many other aspects of behavior — including social functions. This impact can be either positive or negative depending on the content of the games.

“Modern video games have evolved into sophisticated experiences that instantiate many principles known by psychologists, neuroscientists, and educators to be fundamental to altering behavior, producing learning, and promoting brain plasticity.

Video games, by their very nature, involve predominately active forms of learning (i.e., making responses and receiving immediate informative feedback), which is typically more effective than passive learning,” say the researchers.

Source: Sage Publications/EurekAlert