In a new study funded by the National Science Foundation in the US, researchers have attempted to discover if video games can boost memory and thinking skills in the elderly.
Having received a 1.2million-dollar grant for the study as part of the federal stimulus package, researchers at North Carolina State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology now hope that their findings will eventually pave the way for a prototype video game that will be helpful in boosting thinking skills among old people.
The researchers have revealed that their research will run in two phases.
In phase one, they will ascertain whether certain qualities that can be found in video games result in improved cognitive functioning in older adults. Cognitive functioning refers to memory, problem-solving, critical thinking and other mental skills.
Dr. Anne McLaughlin, assistant professor of Psychology at NC State and the principal investigator (PI) for the grant, explains that the first phase asks: "What qualities does a game need to contain to improve cognition? We want to determine the components an effective game should have."
The second phase will begin after the researchers have determined which qualities result in the most significant improvements, and it will focus on the development of a set of guidelines that can be used to design a new class of video game for older adults, as well as a prototype video game that follows those guidelines.
McLaughlin says previous research suggests three qualities in video games may foster improved cognitive functioning: attentional demand, novelty and social interaction.
Attentional demand is the degree to which an individual has to focus attention on a task in order to complete it successfully.
Novelty, or exposure to a task one has not encountered before, "may also be relevant," McLaughlin says, "because existing research shows that novelty is a catalyst for learning."
According to McLaughlin, social interaction should also encourage players to devote more attention and effort to the game.
The researchers have revealed that they will test the cognitive functioning of participants, men and women 65 years old and older to establish a baseline, and then have participants play BOOM BLOX or BOOM BLOX(tm) Bash Party, Wii(tm) video games developed by Electronic Arts, before testing the participants' cognitive functioning again.
BOOM BLOX and BOOM BLOX Bash Party are games in which novelty, attentional demand and social interaction may be manipulated by the researchers.
"For example, if we find that novelty and attentional demand improve cognition, we'll then develop a game that focuses on that," McLaughlin says.
Co-principal investigator Dr. Jason Allaire, an assistant professor of psychology at NC State, believes that a game that highlights the qualities that seemed to have the greatest impact on cognitive functioning "will allow us to see if we can get greater benefits that might transfer to real-world outcomes such as remembering to take medication."
McLaughlin and Allaire will be working with Georgia Tech Research Scientist Maribeth Gandy to develop the prototype game based on their research findings.