Brain Science

Do Video Games Make You Smarter or Dumber?

Do Video Games Make You Smarter or Dumber? about undefined
Kids may laugh at the thought of grandpa sitting in front of the TV and playing a video game, but that’s exactly what grandparents all over the country and world may soon be doing.

Why? Because their doctors told them to!

If that happens, it will be quite a change in the standard perception of video games. As with many new technologies, they’ve generated a lot of fear about what they may do to our minds and habits.

Even as recently as 2015, sensationalistic reports have been published that suggest video games could lead to frightening neurological disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.1 Studies like this may get media buzz, but so far they’ve been found to be based on false assumptions and leaps in logic, and end up widely discredited, according to the Guardian in the UK.2 Meanwhile, actual scientists are hard at work studying the technology of interactive video entertainment and using it to try to improve the cognitive functioning of seniors.

A game designed by scientists is awaiting approval from the FDA for use in medical treatment. Neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, M.D., Ph.D,. has been working hard to design this one and other games specifically for use in the treatment of brain disorders.

Dr. Gazzaley looked at the games on the market that claim to improve your memory, mental strength or even intelligence.

He found these claims to be greatly exaggerated, and even signed an open letter (along with about 70 other experts on the brain) addressed to the companies that produce these games, demanding they stop their marketing hype.

Then he set out to design a game that COULD make these claims legitimately.

It Began with a Game He Created Called NeuroRacer

In his studies at the University of California, San Francisco, players were tasked with driving a simulated car down a winding road while simultaneously pressing a button whenever a prompt came on the screen (multitasking).

Participants ranging in age from 60 t0 85 were tested before and after playing the game. They were compared to control groups who performed only one action, or did nothing at all. Participants played the game for one hour a day, three days a week for four weeks.

For the multitasking group, a significant improvement in memory and attention was observed after the month-long test…

They showed an increase in their ability to multitask and in their reaction time, performing as well or better than players in their 20s. If it holds up, it’s a remarkable result.

What got my attention is that the multitasking game players were also able to remember things in their daily lives better, such as names, addresses and phone numbers. The improvement could still be observed as much as six months later.3 These findings coincide with other studies suggesting that popular games such as World of Warcraft can enhance neural plasticity in seniors.4

Project EVO – a Literal Game Changer

Now, Dr. Gazzaley has teamed up with Alkili Interactive to produce Project EVO, the next wave of cognitive-centered gaming.

By producing games which players will want to access on their mobile phones, tablets and other devices, doctors and researchers have an advantage.

With players constantly (and voluntarily) checking in to the game, long-term measurements and gathering of results can be achieved in a fun, non-intrusive way.

The data can be used to find and diagnose cognitive problems by assessing how a player performs over a lifetime, and will become a powerful tool for cognitive enhancement, according to its proponents.

Project EVO ADHD is the first video game to await approval from the FDA for use in treatment. Once this happens, the company intends to move forward with versions targeted at Alzheimer’s, Traumatic Brain Injury, and several other brain disorders.5

Harmless Fun for the Family

We may be hearing a lot more about Project EVO and other forms of game-therapy in the near future.

In the meantime, you can feel good about joining your grandkids for a game or two. Not only will you surprise the heck out of them, but you’ll be bonding with them… connecting on a level they enjoy and understand. And with luck you’ll be improving your brain, too.
  1. Habitual action video game playing is associated with caudate nucleus-dependent navigational strategies
  2. No, there is no evidence for a link between video games and Alzheimer’s disease
  3. NeuroRacer
  4. Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease: Video Games May Help Seniors Retain Cognitive Function
  5. Alkili Interactive

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