Research: games can improve cognition

SHANE COWLISHAW
Last updated 05:00 15/03/2013
Antonia Stewart
KENT BLECHYDEN/Fairfax NZ
HIDDEN BENEFITS: Antonia Stewart is a fan of the puzzle game Candy Crush, which neuroscientists believe may increase cognitive functions.

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Next time you are on the bus and snigger at someone furiously tapping away at a game on their phone, you may want to think again.

New research from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore has shown that people who regularly play different types of video games can improve their cognitive skills, ranging from dealing with multiple tasks to enhanced memory.

While previous research has been done into the benefits of action-based video games, the paper - published in the journal PLOS ONE - is believed to be the first to investigate the effects of other types of games.

In the study 75 non-gamers were assigned one of five different games and asked to play it on their smartphones for an hour each day, five days of the week for a month. The games used were Hidden Expedition, Memory Matrix, Bejewelled, Modern Combat: Sandstorm and The Sims 3.

Only one was action-based, while the others involved matching identical objects, finding hidden objects or controlling an avatar that mimicked real-life situations.

Following the month of "training", participants were asked to perform a series of cognitive tasks.

Those who played the action game improved their capacity to track multiple objects, while those who played the other types of games improved their performance on visual search tasks.

Wellington programme co-ordinator Antonia Stewart said she had been glued to her phone playing puzzle-match game Candy Crush for the past two months. Although she had not noticed any great leap in her cognitive abilities, she admitted to thinking a little more strategically.

Not a regular gamer, Ms Stewart said she could also see the downside of constantly staring at a tiny screen.

"They're quite addictive. I can't imagine it's actually too good for your eyes doing it all the time."

Victoria University cognitive neuroscience lecturer Steven Prime said video games were a hot area of research, with one Canadian study looking at their ability to help treat conditions such as Parkinson's.

It was possibile certain video games could have an effect on neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to rewire itself with training or after being damaged.

In terms of cognitive benefits, the real question was if improvements in different areas transferred to other parts of people's everyday lives, he said.

"If you have one person who is extremely skilled at an action game . . . then is it just specific to that video game or does it transfer to things like driving?"

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AT A GLANCE

Top 5 iPhone games (paid)

1. Temple Run 2. Sonic Dash 3. Block Fortress 4. Vector 5. Minecraft

Top 5 iPhone games (free)

1. Icomania 2. 4 Pics 1 Word 3.. Minigolf MatchUp 4. Angry Birds 5. Icon Pop Brand

Top 5 iPhone puzzle games (paid)

1. Plants vs Zombies 2. Bad Piggies 3. Scribblenauts Remix 4. Bejewelled 5. Cut the Rope

Top 5 iPhone puzzle games (free)

1. Icomania 2. What's the Pic? 3. Candy Crush Saga 4. Lazors 5. Back to the Future: The Game 

- The Dominion Post

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