It’s Official – Playing Videogames Increases Mental Agility

by on 03/05/2013
 

You know when you were a kid and your parents would constantly berate you for playing games on your PlayStation, or N64… or in my case, my Spectrum 48k+? Well now you have the perfect comeback – it’s helping your mental agility.

"Take my tomahawk to the face, noob!"

“Eat my tomahawk, noob!”

Unfortunately for me, this information comes a bit late… being 33… and using that line with my significant other would most likely just result in her giving me a clip ’round the ear. However it’s not too late to benefit from the effects.

Mashable reports that the University of Iowa have been studying the effects of aging on the brain, and have deduced that a great way to combat this and increase general mental agility is to play a game – more specifically, a game called Road Tour. This is a simple puzzle game with focuses on speed, peripheral vision and the aforementioned mental agility.

The game involves showing a picture of a car or a truck with 8 signs around the license plate – 7 of which say “Rabbit Crossing”, the last one saying “Route 66”. All the images then disappear, and the player has to pinpoint the location of the Route 66 sign and the type of vehicle they saw. With each progression, the image is shown on screen for a shorter length of time, and the signs get further away from the vehicle.

[pullquote_right]A physician could write a prescription and say ‘take this game home and play,’[/pullquote_right]Now this doesn’t exactly sound like thrilling gaming, but the simple memory exercise appears to work rather well. The study was run with groups of people between 50-64, and 65+, with each participant having their mental faculties tested before and after playing Road Tour. They all appeared to show significant improvement – comparable to reversing years of aging… this effect was observed after playing only 10 hours.

An infographic of your brain on gamesSource: The Neurology of Gaming

An infographic of your brain on games
Source: The Neurology of Gaming

“There are a variety of games or training programs or what have you on the market these days. Some of them make very, very strong claims and don’t have a lot of evidence behind them,” says Fredric Wolinsky, a professor at the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health. “Our [University of] Iowa study has the most evidence behind it that it works.”

The effects of gaming on the brain have been under scrutiny for years – this particular study was incorporated into a 1990 study into Cognitive Function in older adults, with the first prototype running in MS-DOS in 1995.

This new study was using an updated version of the game provided by Posit Science, who expressed an interest in the original project, and produced the new version in 2008.

Also quite recently it’s been found that playing Tetris has the capability to fix a lazy eye, with Canadian researchers at McGill University testing 18 people and finding more positive results.

If you’re interested in playing Road Tour, or think it may benefit a relative, or even if you’re just curious about it… the title is commercially available from Posit Science’s website HERE.

With the now proven applications of videogaming into the scientific world, I wonder how long it will take for more game publishers to actively incorporate some of these methods into popular gaming franchises? Games like Professor Layton and the popular Brain Training series of games already utilise similar methods in their titles, but is it something best left to that genre of gaming, or is there more widespread potential?

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