FRIDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Playing certain types of
video games can boost a person's flexible thinking skills,
according to a new study.
The findings could lead to new treatments for people with brain
injuries or conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD), the researchers suggest.
"Previous research has demonstrated that action video games . .
. can speed up decision making, but the current work finds that
real-time strategy games can promote our ability to think on the
fly and learn from past mistakes," said Dr. Brian Glass, of the
School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary University
For the study, researchers looked at 72 women who typically
played video games for less than two hours a week. The study
authors couldn't find any male gamers who spent so little time
playing video games.
Two-thirds of the participants played either basic or more
complex versions of a real-time strategy game called "StarCraft," a
fast-paced game where players have to create and organize armies to
battle an enemy. One-third of the participants played a life
simulation game called "The Sims," which does not rely on using
memory or tactical skills.
The volunteers played the games for 40 hours over six to eight
weeks and underwent tests of their "cognitive flexibility." This
refers to a person's ability to adapt and switch between tasks, and
think about multiple ideas at a given time to solve problems, the
British researchers explained.
The participants who played "StarCraft" were quicker and more
accurate in performing cognitive flexibility tasks than those who
played "The Sims," the results showed.
The study, published Aug. 21 in the journal
PLoS One, was funded by the U.S. Air Force Office of
Scientific Research, U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the U.S.
National Institutes of Health.
"Our paper shows that cognitive flexibility, a cornerstone of
human intelligence, is not a static trait but can be trained and
improved using fun learning tools like gaming," Glass explained in
a university news release.
Cognitive flexibility varies among people and across different
ages, said another researcher, Brad Love, of University College
London. "For example, a fictional character like Sherlock Holmes
has the ability to simultaneously engage in multiple aspects of
thought and mentally shift in response to changing goals and
environmental conditions," Love said in the news release.
"Creative problem solving and 'thinking outside the box' require
cognitive flexibility. Perhaps in contrast to the repetitive nature
of work in past centuries, the modern knowledge economy places a
premium on cognitive flexibility," Love explained.
According to Glass: "The volunteers who played the most complex
version of the video game performed the best in the post-game
psychological tests. We need to understand now what exactly about
these games is leading to these changes, and whether these
cognitive boosts are permanent or if they dwindle over time."
And Glass added, "Once we have that understanding, it could
become possible to develop clinical interventions for symptoms
related to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or traumatic
brain injuries, for example."
The American Psychological Association has more about the
potential brain benefits of video games.