Puzzle games boost mental fitness

Jun 25 2014, 14:43 IST
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SummaryWant to improve your mental fitness? Playing a puzzle game may help.

Want to improve your mental fitness? Playing a puzzle game may help.

Researchers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore have found that adults who played the physics-based puzzle video game Cut the Rope regularly, for as little as an hour a day, had improved executive functions.

The executive functions in the brain are important for making decisions in everyday life when we have to deal with sudden changes in our environment.

The video game study by Assistant Professor Michael D Patterson and his PhD student Adam Oei, tested four different games, as their previous research had shown that different games trained different skills.

The games varied in their genres, which included a first person shooter (Modern Combat); arcade (Fruit Ninja); real-time strategy (StarFront Collision); and a complex puzzle (Cut the Rope).

NTU undergraduates, who were non-gamers, were then selected to play an hour a day, 5 days a week. This video game training lasted for 4 weeks, a total of 20 hours.

Patterson said students who played Cut the Rope, showed significant improvement on executive function tasks while no significant improvements were observed in those playing the other three games.

"This finding is important because previously, no video games have demonstrated this type of broad improvement to executive functions, which are important for general intelligence, dealing with new situations and managing multitasking," said Patterson.

"This indicates that while some games may help to improve mental abilities, not all games give you the same effect. To improve the specific ability you are looking for, you need to play the right game," added Oei.

The abilities tested in this study included how fast the players can switch tasks (an indicator of mental flexibility); how fast can the players adapt to a new situation instead of relying on the same strategy (the ability to inhibit prepotent or predominant responses).

The study also tested how well they can focus on information while blocking out distractors or inappropriate responses.

Patterson said the reason Cut the Rope improved executive function in their players was probably due to the game's unique puzzle design.

Strategies which worked for earlier levels would not work in later levels, and regularly forced the players to think creatively and try alternate solutions.

This is unlike most other video games which keep the same general mechanics and goals, and just speed up or increase the number of items to keep track of.

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