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PC gamer, WorthPlaying EIC, globe-trotting couch potato, patriot, '80s headbanger, movie watcher, music lover, foodie and man in black -- squirrel!

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Study Finds Casual Video Games Improve Cognitive Function

by Rainier on May 26, 2010 @ 4:58 p.m. PDT

PopCap Games announced that preliminary results of a new study being conducted by East Carolina University's Psychophysiology Lab have identified improvements in cognitive function through the playing of "casual" video games

The study, which has been underway for nearly six months and will be completed later this year, involves dozens of U.S. consumers age 50 and older, and explores the effects of the games on subjects' short-term cognitive acuity. In each instance, sizable improvements were identified in the performance of the experimental group as compared to the control group.

Dr. Carmen Russoniello, Director of the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic at ECU, is presenting initial data and analysis from the study today at the 6th annual Games for Health Conference in Boston. Full study results will be submitted this fall for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback.

“The initial results of the study are very intriguing, in that they suggest that the 'active participation' required while playing a casual video game like Bejeweled provides an opportunity for mental exercise that more passive activities, like watching television, do not,” said Russoniello. “Future applications could include prescriptive applications using casual video games to potentially stave off Alzheimer's disease and other dementia-type disorders.”

More than 40 test subjects have participated in the study so far, with dozens more being included by the study's completion. Measurements were achieved through tracking of Electroencephalography (EEG) brain waves as well as subjects' participation in the standardized Trail Making Test™ parts A and B. Both cognitive response time (the speed with which a subject completes a task) and executive function (the frequency of correctly completing parts of the task) were tracked. Those subjects who played Bejeweled or Peggle for short (30 minute) periods showed an 87% improvement in cognitive response time and a 215% increase in executive functioning when compared to a control group. According to ECU, these improvements in overall cognitive acuity are comparable to changes recorded after other types of cognitive interventions such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and cognitive remediation therapy.

“Video games with more complex rules and controls, and more sophisticated or detailed imagery — so-called 'hardcore' video games — might provide similar cognitive benefits for many people,” said Russoniello. “But those games take significantly longer to learn to play and appeal to a considerably narrower subset of the overall population, especially older consumers. In our experience, 'casual' video games are ideal both in terms of their accessibility and ease of understanding and because they appeal to nearly everyone.”

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