Video Games and Cognitive Control

Scholarly critique of Video games, cognitive exercises, and the enhancement of cognitive abilities. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 4: 160-165

Scholarly Critique #4

My interest in this research study was sparked by the connection between video games and cognitive abilities. Researchers from all fields of studies have been focusing on studying the brain and the effects of different stimulus and factors on brain activity and cognition. For instance, one of the UC Berkeley is currently working on researching the neuronal mechanisms for number of high-level cognitive and behavioral processes, including decision making, learning and working memory. Even though studies have been conducted on the relationship between playing video games and increased functioning of the prefrontal cortex, I still haven’t read a conclusive data that points out to the correlation of the two.

Variety of research is also focused on what is popularly termed as “brain fitness” or “brain training” (DiSalvo, 2014). In Anguera and Gazzaley’s article, the researchers are differentiating between stimulus such as media for entertainment such are the video games and media created for the sole purpose of cognitive exercises or what DiSalvo calls brain fitness. Anguera and Gazzaley’s review article explores the effects of video games as interactive digital media and cognitive exercises in terms of enhancement of cognitive abilities.

The relationship between games and learning in the context of this article is defined by exploration of factors associated with video games and brain exercises that may influence the potential for cognitive enhancement (learning, working memory, multitasking, etc). The review points out several controversial studies in the area of relationship between video games and cognitive improvement. Some of the studies show a positive effect on attention and working memory after playing action or first-person shooter games but other studies indicate no change in cognitive control abilities (164). similar are the results from brain training exercises (or games that are not action oriented, such as puzzles or puzzle-like games). Certainly, the broad overview raises variety of questions as to what population samples were used in those studies, or how what cognitive functions were target? What are the specific design factors of the studies, what factors were accounted for and which were not?

When compared studies of the effects on video games and cognitive exercises on the brain, Anguera and Gazzaley found out that factors such as engaging visual elements (especially in video games), timely rewards and motivating feedback for instance did not necessarily contributed to enhancing cognitive control. Nor did targeted training (platforms such as Lumosity). To battle this dichotomy in research, they created the NeuroRacer game where they incorporated key elements of both forms of interactive digital media. the game play involved participants performing a perceptual discrimination task (button-click for certain responses) combined with a visuomotor tracking task (maintaining a car in the center of a winding road with a joystick). Algorithms were set in place to track performance and reward action mechanisms triggered when certain levels of proficiency was achieved. The authors hypothesized that by challenging the goal management abilities in form of multitasking, they would observe improvement in attention and working memory.

To tie this back to previous studies described and cognitive functions, the hypothesis in the NeroRacer research targets exactly the cognitive control functions. And since cognitive control abilities are supported by the prefrontal cortex, it is exciting to follow this research and define the connection between the video games (or specific games) and the functions of the prefrontal cortex. Some of the outcomes of playing NeuroRacers were positive: EEG during game play recorded evidences for augmented prefrontal cortex activity. Thus, this research becomes vital in the next step of collaboration between video game industry professionals and cognitive neuroscientists in developing the next generation of cognitive training tools.

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Bibliography:

Aguera, J. and Gazzaley, A (2015). Video games, cognitive exercises, and the enhancement of cognitive abilities. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 4: 160-165

DiSalvo, D. 2014. The Surprising Connection between Playing Video Games and A Thicker Brain (http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2014/04/06/the-surprising-connection-between-playing-video-games-and-a-thicker-brain/#3eedadb5501e)