Under the Hood

Video Games Like Call Of Duty Are A Good Way To Train Brain And Improve Cognitive Performance, Even In Adults

When it comes to raising intelligent, healthy kids, video games probably aren’t the first activity parents think of as beneficial. For decades, children were encouraged to do their homework, read, or even play outside rather than sit glued to the television for hours with their thumbs on a game controller. When researchers actually studied the effects of these games, however, it was revealed that many video games are good for the brain. A new, comprehensive study makes this point clearer than it’s ever been: action video games boost cognitive performance.

The study’s authors, based mainly at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, took on twenty years of video game research for their analysis. They found twenty studies, excluding everything but trials involving action video games — in which the player is required to shoot — and healthy adult subjects. Some of the studies lasted weeks while others lasted months, and they involved games like Call of Duty, Unreal Tournament, and Medal of Honor.

black ops Call of Duty is making you smarter. Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for EA Sports

Combining all of the study results, the researchers had a pool of 600 individual participants and one clear finding — adults derive a moderate benefit from action video games in overall cognitive abilities. In addition, the games helped improve specific cognitive domains in a lesser, but still significant manner. These cognitive functions that improved with gaming  included visuospatial processing, executive function, processing speed and attention, and even memory, reported Real Clear Science.

“These meta-analytic findings provide evidence that action video game training may serve as an efficient way to improve the cognitive performance of healthy adults,” the authors wrote in the study.

The researchers explained that action video games require quick reflexes, attention, accuracy, and focus in order to be played well. Paying attention to multiple targets at once is also a key part of the games, along with in-game problem solving. Recent research has even suggested such games can change the brain on a structural level.

The team found that young adults saw the most cognitive benefits from action video games, something the authors attribute to a higher level of neural plasticity, or the ability for the brain to make new connections, especially at a younger age. About 155 million Americans regularly play video games, 26 percent of whom are under the age of 18.

The cognitive benefits of video games are important for young adults, since they can have implications for real life. Spatial skills, for example, are an accurate predictor of “achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” according to a 2013 American Psychological Association study on video games. The paper also suggests video games can boost creativity, an important quality for many arts and humanities fields.

Though people may choose to play video games because of their more fun and entertaining aspects, a cognitive boost can be a welcome and useful bonus.

Source: Wang P, Liu H, Zhu X, Meng T, Li H, Zuo X. Action Video Game Training for Healthy Adults: A Meta-Analytic Study. Frontiers in Psychology. 2016.

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