Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The effects of video game playing on attention, memory, and executive control

The article seeks to compare expert video game players to non-players in order to see if there are any significant differences between how the two groups perform in attention, memory, and executive control skills.  The three games used were Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (from 2002), Tetris (from 2004), and Rise of Nations (from 2003).  Medal of Honor represented a first-person shooter (FPS), Tetris represented a puzzle game, and Rise of Nations represented a strategy game.  In each group there were males who were both expert gamers (played 7+ hours a week) and non-gamers (less than an hour a week), along with a control group who did not participate in any of the games.  Each person within the longitudinal group of the study practiced in 15 game sessions (1.5 hours per session) in their assigned game over 4-5 weeks.  The control group were tested without playing one of the games.

All participants took tests related to visual and attentional tasks, spatial processing and memory tasks, and executive control tasks.  Three of the five visual and attentional tasks included spotting a triangle within a circle when briefly exposed to an image and then correctly choosing the location of the shape, spotting a white letter and if an X followed when exposed to 16 or 22 letters rapidly on a screen, and count the number of dots when briefly exposed to an image of 1 to 8 dots.  Two of the three spatial processing and memory tasks include selecting the pattern of grey blocks that lit up white in the order they flashed and discerning whether two shapes were actually the same shape when presented.  Two of the four executive control tasks included memorizing sets of words while doing math problems with tasked recollection of the terms and a disc switching game involving discs, pegs, and the ability to move one disc at a time in order to match a pattern.

The comparison of expert video games versus non-gamers lead to several conclusions.  First, expert video game players outperformed non-gamers in many of the categories.  The experts were able to better track objects that were moving at great speed, outperform the non-gamers in visual short-term memory tests, alternate between tasks faster, and more accurately perceive and report shapes which had been rotated.  Non-gamers were found to not have achieved much improvement in their overall skills from the tests after playing their assigned video games for 21 hours.  For the rest of the tests, the non-gamers did not perform significantly better in any of the tasks save for the mental rotation of the similar shapes.    

Although this article does not specifically mention, 'brain training' it is clear that this study investigates just that.  The researchers want to answer the question if 21 hours of brain training can lead to improved results in various cognitive tests.  The authors made sure to use several different gaming categories including a FPS, strategy game, and puzzle game.  This makes sense as each interacts with the player in very different ways.  The authors set up control groups, and made sure the test subjects were clearly classified as either expert gamer or non-gamer.  Unfortunately, 21 hours was not found to really be significant time for non-gamers to really gain skills in the visual and attentional tasks, spatial processing and memory tasks, and executive control tasks.  However, the research did prove that expert gamers performed better in the four listed tasks mentioned earlier, potentially due to an already established experience with games.

I like how the authors selected their games and feel they would be some of the best options the authors could have chosen to represent the categories they were examining.  I was a little put-off that the authors excluded females from parts of the study, but I understand that it was important to keep the variables as similar as possible.  I think it would be interesting to run these same tests exclusively with female expert gamers and non-gamers.  Additionally, although it might be cumbersome to have participants play these video games for a longer period of time, I feel that the results of non-gamers gaining extended experience from game play could increase their performance on the cognitive tests.

Although not universally applicable to the intelligence field, this study does have some small contributions to the field.  One of these is that the study shows that a relatively short amount of time to train people in games is not significant enough to improve results.  This could be applied with intelligence analyst work in general- the repeated practice improves analytic products over time.  Personally, I feel that much like sports or any activity that requires practice, great improvement would never be expected over a month but would instead take many years to show significant improvement.  Overall, I feel the article was very thoughtful and made sure to keep the variables as separate as possible for optimal results.  

Boot, W.R., Kramer, A.F., Simons, D.J., Fabiana, M., & Gratton, G. (2008).  The effects of video game playing on attention, memory, and executive control. Acta Psychologica, 3(129). 387-398. Retrieved from  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001691808001200


  1. You bring up a good point about the study only including male participants. Many experts suggest different cognitive strengths generalized between the sexes so it would be interesting to see how the results of the same research with female participants would compare.

  2. This is an interesting study. I especially like the use of three different game types since these types can lead to improvements in different cognitive functions. Playing FPS could increase reaction time while Tetris could lead to better shape and color recognition. Rise of Nations could lead to an increase in shape recognition, as well as memory. As someone who has played Rise of Nations (as well as the other two games), I can vouch that to play a successful match in Rise of Nations requires the player to remember and keep track of multiple things (resources, military, scientific advancement, discovery, money) while worrying about what their allies and enemies are doing. It is a very involved game and it does not surprise me that it would increase certain cognitive functions

  3. After reading some of these articles about brain training, I wondered whether the individuals exposed to various brain training tasks outperformed their counterparts because the tasks actually increased their brain capacity or if the players get use to playing games multiple times. Hence, these game players are naturally more attentive and experts at reacting to certain situations. According to the results, the non-gamers did not significantly improve on any tasks after playing for 21 hours except for the mental rotation of the similar shapes. Clearly the expert gamers had more experience playing video games than the non-gamers. The skills that allowed these gamers to outperform others may have been developed overtime. So the non-gamers were at a disadvantage by only playing for 21 hours.

  4. I agree that it was beneficial that the person conducting the experiment chose several different games rather than just one. This is an interesting way to test brain training as opposed to some of the studies I found that were in more test-like forms. It was interesting that the results showed some kind of increase in performance outside of the games as the article I read specified that brain training does not transfer over to other tasks well. It seems that brain training can take many forms with some forms being more successful than others.