Cognitive function enhancing video games? Hmmm

video gamingDo action video games make you smarter? Some research says, yes.

Numerous studies published over the past decade have found that training on fast-paced video games such as Medal of Honor and Grand Theft Auto that require a wide focus and quick responses has broad 'transfer effects' that enhance other cognitive functions, such as visual attention. Some of the studies have been highly cited and widely publicized. And you can see why. What parent (or, as gamers age, wife or girlfriend) wouldn’t want to be reassured that all that cash, time and energy wasn’t totally wasted? And yet, other research into how that initial research was done finds that the studies are so flawed, you can’t possibly come to that conclusion, or, for that matter, any conclusion.

Research showing that action video games have a beneficial effect on cognitive function is seriously flawed, according to a review published this week in Frontiers in Psychology. It’s a detailed report, and this is a short post, so do read for yourself, if gaming research interests you. I have to admit my bias: the mere mention in the article of “expert gamers” and “college-age participants” left me with the feeling that some of these fellows seriously need to get a life. A real one.
This concluding quotation made me chuckle, because it’s so painfully self-evident:

The team suggests that all future studies into the effects of gaming should follow the basic principles of good experimental design. In other words, follow this crazy thing called “scientific method”? I was tempted to think the researchers who designed the flawed studies were themselves cognitively-challenged. Uncharitable, I know, but what else do you call someone who claims to be a researcher yet ignores (or is unaware of) the rigours of scientific method? Were they perhaps just a little too eager to prove the benefits of gaming? Had they received industry funding, or were hoping for it? Or were they just enthusiastic gamers themselves (“expert” or otherwise).
In any case, I'm not sure we need any sort of research to tell us that a little good clean fun (excluding rape-and-murder type of games) is beneficial in terms of stress-relief and relaxation; anything further might just be wishful thinking. As great-grandpa used to say, everything in moderation.


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