This study found that adults in their 60s and 70s can improve a number of cognitive functions by playing a strategic video games. “When you train somebody on a task they tend to improve in that task, whatever it is, but it usually doesn’t transfer much beyond that skill or beyond the particular situation in which they learned it,” he said. “And there are virtually no studies that examine whether there’s any transfer outside the lab to things people care about.”
After testing several video games, the researchers selected “Rise of Nations,” which gives gamers points for building cities and “wonders,” feeding and employing their people, maintaining an adequate military and expanding their territory.
The study included 40 older adults, half of whom received 23.5 hours of training in Rise of Nations. The others, a comparison group, received no training in the game.
Both groups were assessed before, during and after the video game training on a variety of tests designed to measure executive control functions. The tests included measures of their ability to switch between tasks, their short-term visual memory, their reasoning skills and their working memory, which is the ability to hold two or more pieces of information in memory and use the information as needed.
There were also tests of the subjects’ verbal recall, their ability to inhibit certain responses and their ability to identify an object that had been rotated to a greater or lesser degree from its original position.
The researchers found that training on the video game did improve the participants’ performance on a number of these tests. As a group, the gamers became significantly better – and faster – at switching between tasks as compared to the comparison group. Their working memory, as reflected in the tests, was also significantly improved. Their reasoning ability was enhanced. To a lesser extent, their short-term memory of visual cues was better than that of their peers, as was their ability to identify rotated objects.
The video game training had no effect on their ability to recall a list of words in order, their enumeration ability or their ability to inhibit certain responses, however.
There was a correlation between their performance on the game and their improvement on certain cognitive tests, Kramer said.
Those who did well in the game also improved the most on switching between tasks. They also tended to do better on tests of working memory.
“In medical terminology, these would be dose-response effects,” Kramer said. “The more drug – or in this case the more training on the video game – the more benefit.”