Brain training games have become widely popular, but how do they stack up against video games? A recent study aimed to find out by comparing the cognitive functioning of older adults who play brain training games with older adults who play classic video games.
Thirty-five participants age 60 to 71 played either brain games or video games three hours a week for two months, or played no games during that time. The brain training group had a variety of 20 brain games to practice, while the video game group played Super Mario Bros. To test the effectiveness of each condition, all participants completed a series of cognitive measures before and after the study. These measures included mental flexibility, impulse control, reasoning ability, processing speed, memory, and visuospatial ability.
There were no differences in cognitive performance among the groups before the study, but by the end of the two months, both game groups showed greater improvements in reasoning ability compared to controls. For impulse control, older adults who played brain games showed greater improvements than both other groups. Likewise, older adults who played video games showed greater improvements than both groups on visuospatial ability, as well as on two measures of processing speed and working memory, compared to controls.
Compared to playing no games, both brain training and video gaming showed benefits for cognitive functioning, only in different ways. Video game players showed slightly better improvements over brain game players in processing speed, memory, and visuospatial ability, possibly due to the need for players to simultaneously use strategy, quick reflexes, and navigation. Super Mario Bros. also may have been more engaging than the brain games.
It might be a stretch to recommend that older adults play more video games based on this study, but this sort of activity could be more beneficial than passively watching TV. Plus, the results could inform how brain training games are designed. There is a wide variety of types of brain training and video games available, so future research will need to explore other types as well as replicate with a larger sample.
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