A new study in the December 2008 issue of Psychology and Aging finds that playing complex video games can improve memory in aging individuals. The study, led by researchers at the University of Illinois, received no funding from the gaming industry. The results may eventually help develop strategies to assist older struggling with managing otherwise simple tasks.
The research studied 40 adults in the 60s and 70s before and after playing Rise of Nations, a video game which has users creating a societies, including building cities, employing people and expanding territory. The study group received training before playing the game, while the other participants did not.
Results showed that those who were trained prior to playing the game performed better in the game, but also on tests of memory, reasoning and the ability to identify rotated objects compared to the others. Read More...
Juggling multiple tasks such as cooking, answering the door, and talking on the phone might be simple for a young person, while an older person might feel overwhelmed and burn their food," said study author Chandramallika Basak, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois, in a news report.
"These are the kind of things that older people do in their everyday lives, so if you're not very good at juggling different tasks it does impact your lifestyle."
Of course, the study cannot certainly determine whether people with better cognitive abilities are naturally attracted to video games and other complex tasks, or if it is playing that helps boost these abilities.
"Perhaps the brains of people who enjoy video games are very different than somebody who doesn't want that challenge," considered Basak. "At this point, it's pure speculation."
But the trends noted in the study are encouraging. "The interesting thing is that less than 24 hours of training not only improved mental and cognitive functions, but also enhanced [the participants’] ability to function in some other tasks," said Paul Sanberg, director of the University of South Florida's Center for Aging and Brain Repair.
"This would be a good type of experiment to combine with brain-imaging studies to see the effect of the training on these people, and whether there's increased activity in the brain and new connections," said Sanberg. "It's also nice to see if there's some correlation with actual brain function."