Video games have long been a source of controversy; some organizations have called for a ban on violent video games, claiming playing them leads to increased aggressive thoughts and behavior. The argument is that the constant influx of violent images leads to desensitization and cognitive changes. But is the reverse true of non-violent games? Or, if violent games lead to violent attitudes and behavior, can non-violent games actually improve behavior? Many people are asking how to train your brain using video games.
Many scientists argue that video games can be used to train your brain, improving cognition and brain function. In fact, there are a range of video games that have been specifically designed as brain trainers. In one study, researchers at the Gazzaley Lab at University of California, San Francisco, designed NeuroRacer, a virtual car racing game, to test a group of elderly participants. As they improved in the game, the game would then get harder. Researchers then compared the test subjects’ cognitive function in other tasks to pre-game levels. They found that as gamers improved their skills, their other cognitive functions also improved. Specifically, their memory and attention showed marked improvement from earlier levels. Since these are two of the areas that are known to decrease with age, this was a significant finding. Additionally, researchers found that the improvement continued for six months.
The question remains, though, whether other video games might be as effective at improving brain function. There are numerous types of brain training games available today, on video game consoles, personal computers, and as apps for tablets and phones. The idea is that these will help users increase their brain function. Most of them focus on memory and attention; they might show a list of words that the user has to memorize and then repeat. Some use objects such as colored lights, or arrows that the gamer has to hit in order. As the user progresses, they are given more objects to memorize. Most games also have a function that remembers how users did on prior days, to compare and show a progression over time.
Researchers are conflicted about whether or not video game training will have long-term effects or actually improve cognitive function over time. However, they agree that all studies show that, at the very least, users showed improvement in the specific tasks they trained on. This appears to be good news for people with weak memory or attention skills, although researchers also agree that the benefit is limited when considering most of the ‘fun’ games that are used on tablets and consoles. If a person needs higher-level brain training, for example someone with dementia or a learning disability, then it is better to contact a professional organization that has had software developed specifically to increase cognitive functions.