Bite Sized Science: Can video games improve cognition?

By Keir Liddle
It was reported today that there have been many studies that have suggested video games can improve a variety of cognitive and perceptual abilities however a new paper published this week in Frontiers in Psychology casts doubt on such claims. In the paper Walter Boot offers an argument about why the research that demonstrates the benefits of video games is fundamentally flawed stating:

“Despite the hype, in reality, there is little solid evidence that games enhance cognition at all”

In the paper Boot and his co-authors cite a number of methodological flaws in a number of influential studies that have supported the idea that people playing action games, like Unreal Tournament or Medal of Honour, have improved or even superior cognitive and perceptual skills. Such studies are often used as a counterpoint when studies on the effects of such games on aggression and anti-social behaviour

Interestingly Boots argument is very similar to those lay arguments made against the hypothesis that video games can increase violent or aggressive behaviour. Boots argument states that many of these studies compare the cognitive skills of frequent gamers to non-gamers and found gamers to be superior. However, Boot and his coauthors point out that this doesn’t necessarily mean that their game experience caused better perceptual and cognitive abilities. It could be that individuals who have the abilities required to be successful gamers are simply drawn to gaming. Boots argues that the adverts used to attract participants often bias research as they seek “expert” video game player that alone Boot argues,

“lets participants know how researchers expect them to perform on challenging, often game-like computer tests of cognition.”

Boots and his colleagues undertook a study to see if video games could be used to train and improve perceptual and cognitive skills but they found that this wasn’t the case. Indeed when Boots and co examined other studies that claimed these improvements they found similar methodological problems. Even more important than identifying flaws of previous studies, Blakely said, their new paper outlines a series of best practices for researchers who want definitive answers on the potential benefits of video game play.

Boot and Blakely haven’t entirely written off video games as a way to boost perceptual and cognitive abilities; in fact, they’re still open to the possibility. But before they start recommending video game interventions as a means to improve perception and cognition for kids, adults and senior citizens, they say more evidence is necessary. Boots concluded:

“If people are playing games to improve their cognition, they may be wasting their time, Play games because you enjoy them, not because they could boost your brain”

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0 Responses to Bite Sized Science: Can video games improve cognition?

  1. Thanks for that link I did want to run a story on that. May well do later in the week.

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