Can we use games such as video games to improve mental performance?
In general, scientific studies find that while practising something will make you good at it, getting good at one activity doesn't make you better at other activities. For example, if you play a lot of chess, you will get better at playing chess, but there is not good evidence that playing chess will make you better at other activities like, say, playing bridge or computer programming (See this interesting article in Scientific American on "The Expert Mind" : http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-expert-mind ).
That means that if we do find scientific evidence that playing some game improves general intelligence, it is a very exciting finding for us. The Mind Hacks and Mind Performance Hacks books both describe evidence that playing first person video games improves certain general mental processes, namely the "attentional blink" and "subitizing". This is a fast moving area of research and every now and then researchers are making new findings suggesting ways that game playing can improve intelligence.
Recently, researchers have presented evidence that practicing a particular demanding mental task (called "Dual n-back") increases general intelligence - probably through increasing the capacity of working memory (i.e. the number of things we can hold in our head at one time while thinking). That holds the promise of a way of increasing general intelligence and problem solving ability.
Training with dual n-back
Programs to train with
The study suggests that practicing the dual n-back task for about 30 minutes a day will improve overall intelligence. There are a number of implementations of the dual n-back task that you can use for training. Four of the best are:
- Dual n-back Task - an exact duplicate of the algorithm used in the study by Jaeggi, et al. No distracting bells and whistles. Includes a Flash 6 version that works on Pocket PC (if the device has a keyboard) and Windows Mobile smart phones.
- soakyourhead.com - an implementation of the n-back task which is very close to the original paper
- cognitive fun - another good implementation of the n-back task. The cognitive fun site has a number of other demanding brain games which are well worth exploring.
- Brainworkshop - an open source app with lots of options, written in Python
- Working Memory Workout - a feature-heavy open source PC game
- N-Back task online - an online implementation of the N-Back task with a number of settings.
- BrainExer N-Back - free online n-back task exercise
The dual n-back task is pretty intense, and it's probably fairer to describe it as an "intense brain workout" than a "game". An interesting twist on the n-back idea is the 3d dual n-back speed run at cognitivefun.net, which is an attempt at implementing something close to the dual n-back task in the study, but made into a much more compelling computer game format.
For iPhone/iPod Touch users, check out the "IQ Boost" application, which is a reasonably faithful implementation of the original task.
Other n-back programs
See WorkingMemoryTraining for further scientific background
Other brain training and mental calculation games online
- mybraintraining.com scientifically proven cognitive brain trainer, includes 30 exercises for brain activation which were executed during the development of the successful "Train your Brain with Dr. Kawashima" program cooperating with the Industry University Research Project with Professor Dr. Kawashima
- mybraintraining Professional the scientifically proven cognitive training for use by physicians, therapists and hospitals - functionality comparable to COGPACK®
- www.brainexer.com - free online brain training exercises
- mybraintrainer.com - commercial brain training games site
- Space Fortress - a brain training game with a long history. The online game Star Castle may resemble it.
- NeuroNation - a great site with a variety of brain games (completely free)
- NeuroNation (German) updated version of NeuroNation?, unfortunately only in German.
- CognitiveLabs - a site with a lot of interesting stuff
- Fitbrains.com - a slick site with lots of games (NOT all free)
- scilearn.com - publishes the "Fast ForWord?" reading training software. See a summary of a study of the effectiveness of this, suggesting no significant gains, and the Wikipedia article on Fast ForWord
- Speed math trainer - a good online game for rapid fire drilling of mental arithmetic
- Grey Matters mental gym - lots of online games
- gbrainy - Free, open source game software that claims to improve your intelligence. Cf. Brain Age.
- Memorise.org memory gym
- TimesOnline.co.uk - some simple but slick Nintendo-style online brain training games
- Matica.com brain gym - free flash games
- Happy Neuron - site with lots of games, generally need paying for but with free trials
- Games at brainready.com
- Learning tools at teach-the-brain.org
- 100 web games and tools to stretch your mind without moving a muscle - at find-schools-online.com
- brainist.com - lots of brain games
- A mental rotation game
- braindash.com - various brain games at a slick site
- Smart kit - puzzle site, also has blog with interesting posts on research
- Mastermind - good for practicing logic and deduction.
- www.brainturk.com - Lots of games like nback, complex working memory , revised space fortress(NOT all free).
For facebook users, check out the "Who has the biggest brain" application.
Brain training and mental health
Training processing speed
Brain training effects of traditional videogames
- Cheyney - Mom, let me play more computer games: they improve my mental rotation skills
- Video game playing associated with surgery skills
- Strategic video game improves critical cognitive skills in older adults - play Rise of Nations and get smarter. At least, it works for old folks!
- Boot, W. R., Kramer, A. F., Simons, D. J., Fabiani, M., Gratton, G. (in press). The effects of video game playing on attention, memory, and executive control
- The effects of action video game experience on the time course of inhibition of return and the efficiency of visual search
- Video games 'can improve vision'
Brain training effects of traditional board games
Other relevant links
Here are some open questions for development:
- Can we find any more research evidence in this area?
- Is there evidence that the "brain training" programs that have been popularised by Nintendo and others recently really work?
- What other memory and brain training software is available? Which is the best?
Apparently, this online game implements the n-back task: http://cognitivefun.net/test/5
-- Ron Hale-Evans [[DateTime?(2008-05-09T14:22:39Z)]]
Thanks Ron - this looks like exactly what I was after. ThufirHawat.