Video Games May Not Enhance Cognitive Skills After All

By Traci Pedersen
October 12th, 2021
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.

Video Games May Not Enhance Cognitive Skills After AllAlthough past research has suggested that action video games, such as “Medal of Honor,” enhance perceptual and cognitive abilities, new research provides a contrary viewpoint.

“Despite the hype, in reality, there is little solid evidence that games enhance cognition at all,” said Dr. Walter Boot, assistant professor in Florida State University’s department of psychology.

Boot and his colleagues argue that many influential studies supporting the superior skills of action gamers actually suffer from a large number of methodological flaws.

For example, a lot of past research compared the cognitive skills of frequent gamers to non-gamers and found gamers to be superior. However, Boot and co-authors point out that this doesn’t necessarily suggest cause and effect. Instead, it could mean that individuals who already have these skills are simply drawn to gaming.

Furthermore, when researchers set out to study the cognitive differences between expert and novice gamers, they often find volunteers by posting ads on college campuses seeking “expert” video gamers. That wording alone, Boot argues, “lets participants know how researchers expect them to perform on challenging, often game-like computer tests of cognition.”

Even in studies that train non-gamers to play action video games, there are other kinds of problems, often in the form of weak control groups, said Boot and his coauthors.

Boot, who grew up playing video games, started out excited about research that claimed action video games would improve basic measures of attention. He and his fellow investigators conducted their own video-game training research to find what other skills might be enhanced after video game play, but they were unable to replicate the benefits found in prior studies.

“The idea that video games could enhance cognition was exciting because it represented one of the few cases in which cognitive training enhanced abilities that weren’t directly practiced,” Boot said. “But we found no benefits of video game training.”

Not only did some of his studies fail to replicate those earlier findings, but “no study has yet met the ‘gold standard’ methods necessary in intervention studies of this sort.”

In fact, the same methodological problems surfaced again and again as the researchers reviewed past studies. Even more significant than the identified flaws in these studies, noted the researchers, is that their new paper offers a series of best practices for researchers who want definitive answers on the potential benefits of video game play.

The researchers haven’t entirely thrown out video games as a way to boost perceptual and cognitive abilities; in fact, they’re still open to the idea. But before they begin suggesting video game interventions as a means to improve perception and cognition for children, adults and senior citizens, they believe more evidence is needed first.

“If people are playing games to improve their cognition, they may be wasting their time,” Boot said. “Play games because you enjoy them, not because they could boost your brain power.”

The study was published this week in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Source:  Florida State University

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.