Study: Casual gaming improves cognitive function

If you enjoy playing casual games like Bejeweled or Peggle (my personal favorite is Alchemy), then you’re aware of the niggling feeling of guilt that accompanies a long session of gem-moving when there’s something more productive to be done. (Unless you play at work, in which case, just keep an eye out for roving middle management.)

The next time you stay up into the wee hours playing a silly Flash game, take heart. A new study (revolving around but not funded by Pop Cap Games) seems to indicate that casual gaming can improve cognitive function and even help stave off diseases that affect mental acuity. DigitalTrends posted about the study:

The study measured the brain waves of the subjects before and after playing casual games. Subjects that played games like Bejeweled for a 30-minute period showed an 87 percent improvement in cognitive response time, and a 215 percent increase in executive functioning (the frequency of correctly completing parts of the task) compared to the control group.

The Director of the Psychophysiology department, Dr. Carmen Russoniello, will present the preliminary result to the sixth annual Games for Health Conference in Boston. The full study results will be submitted later this fall.

“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,” Russoniello said. “Future applications could include prescriptive applications using casual video games to potentially stave off Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-type disorders.”

Russioniello said the benefits aren’t limited to casual games, but rather that titles preferred by “hardcore gamers” tend to be more challenging to learn and appeal to a “narrower subset” of gamers. So your aging parents are far more likely to hit one of those fish-feeding games than Red Dead Redemption. The study, at East Carolina University, has been going of for six months, and is expected to continue.