How Video Games Can Improve Cognitive Function

From “brain games” designed to enhance mental fitness, to games used to improve real-world problems, to games created purely to entertain, today’s video games can have a variety of potential impacts on the brain. A new article argues that it is the specific content, dynamics, and mechanics of individual games that determine their effects on the brain and that action video games might have particularly positive benefits. This article is published today in the new issue of Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

“The term video games refers to thousands of quite disparate types of experiences, anything from simple computerized card games to richly detailed and realistic fantasy worlds, from a purely solitary activity to an activity including hundreds of others, etc. A useful analogy is to the term food – one would never ask, ‘What is the effect of eating food on the body?’ Instead, it is understood that the effects of a given type of food depend on the composition of the food such as the number of calories; the percentage of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; the vitamin and mineral content; and so on,” the researchers wrote.

Analyzing science on the cognitive effects of video games, Drs. C. Shawn Green and Aaron R. Seitz wrote that action video games- games that feature quickly moving targets that come in and out of view, include large amounts of clutter, and that require the user to make rapid, accurate decisions – have particularly positive cognitive impacts, even when compared to “brain games,” which are created specifically to improve cognitive function.

“Action video games have been linked to improving attention skills, brain processing, and cognitive functions including low-level vision through high-level cognitive abilities. Many other types of games do not produce an equivalent impact on perception and cognition,” the researchers commented. “Brain games typically embody few of the qualities of the commercial video games linked with cognitive improvement.”

Green and Seitz noted that while action games in particular have not been linked to problems with sustaining attention, research has shown that total amount of video game play predicts poorer attention in the classroom. Furthermore, video games are known to impact not only cognitive function, but many other aspects of behavior – including social functions – and this impact can be either positive or negative depending on the content of the games.

Image shows a selection of screen shots of different video games such as the sims, angry birds and candy crush.
“Video games” encompass a wide variety of experiences. Note. Video games differ widely in their content, dynamics, and mechanics. As a result, games vary in their effects on cognitive skills. Action games, including many “first-person shooters” (top-left: Wolfenstein: The New Order) and “third-person shooters” (top-middle: Grand Theft Auto V) have been shown to enhance many cognitive functions. Others, including simple building/exploration games (top-right: Minecraft), social games (middle-left: The Sims 2), phone games (middle-middle: Angry Birds; middle-right: Candy Crush), and card games (bottom-left: Hearthstone) lack features believed to be important to the cognitive impact of action games. Even “brain games” have a wide variety–with some being gamified scholastic or lab tasks (bottom-middle: Balloons; Owen et al., 2010), while others layer effective content into interesting game environments (bottom-right: NeuroRacer; Anguera et al., 2013). Credit: C. Shawn Green and Aaron R. Seitz.

“Modern video games have evolved into sophisticated experiences that instantiate many principles known by psychologists, neuroscientists, and educators to be fundamental to altering behavior, producing learning, and promoting brain plasticity. Video games, by their very nature, involve predominately active forms of learning (i.e., making responses and receiving immediate informative feedback), which is typically more effective than passive learning.”

About this psychology research

Source: Camille Gamboa – Sage Publications
Image Source: The image is credited to C. Shawn Green and Aaron R. Seitz
Original Research: Abstract for “The Impacts of Video Games on Cognition (and How the Government Can Guide the Industry)” by C. Shawn Green and Aaron R. Seitz in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Published online October 1 2015 doi:10.1177/2372732215601121


The Impacts of Video Games on Cognition (and How the Government Can Guide the Industry)

Video game play has become a pervasive part of American culture. The dramatic increase in the popularity of video games has resulted in significant interest in the effects that video gaming may have on the brain and behavior. The scientific research to date indicates that some, but not all, commercial video games do indeed have the potential to cause large-scale changes in a wide variety of aspects of human behavior, including the focus of this review—cognitive abilities. More recent years have seen the rise of a separate form of video games, the so-called “brain games,” or games designed with the explicit goal of enhancing cognitive abilities. Although research on such brain games is still in its infancy, and the results have definitely not been uniformly positive, there is nonetheless reason for continued optimism that custom games can be developed that make a lasting and positive impact on human cognitive skills. Here, we discuss the current state of the scientific literature surrounding video games and human cognition with an emphasis on points critically related to public policy.

“The Impacts of Video Games on Cognition (and How the Government Can Guide the Industry)” by C. Shawn Green and Aaron R. Seitz in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Published online October 1 2015 doi:10.1177/2372732215601121

Feel free to share this neuroscience article.
Join our Newsletter
I agree to have my personal information transferred to AWeber for Neuroscience Newsletter ( more information )
Sign up to receive our recent neuroscience headlines and summaries sent to your email once a day, totally free.
We hate spam and only use your email to contact you about newsletters. You can cancel your subscription any time.