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Research

Playing video games may improve attention and memory, new research finds

A new study, published in the British Journal of Psychology, found that regular gamers performed better on tasks measuring cognitive functions such as attention and memory.

20 February 2024

The study, which took place at the Lero Esports Science Research Lab at University of Limerick, involved 88 young adults, half of whom regularly played more than seven hours of action-based video games each week.

Participants were tested with three tasks measuring different aspects of their cognitive performance – a simple reaction time test, a task which involved switching between responding to combinations of numbers and letters to evaluate executive function (including flexible thinking and self-control) and working memory, and a maze-based activity to assess visuospatial memory (the ability to retain and process an object's identity and spatial location).

The researchers found that regular gamers were able to complete the number-letter task and the maze task 12.7 per cent and 17.4 per cent quicker respectively than the group of non-gamers.

“The regular playing of video games is often criticised and seen as unhealthy, but our research shows that gamers may enjoy some cognitive benefits over the wider population, particularly relating to attentiveness and memory,” said Dr Adam Toth of University of Limerick and Lero, the SFI Research Centre for Software, and one of the authors of the research.

Dr Mark Campbell, added: “In line with previous work out of our lab, this research may have implications in sectors where cognitive performance is paramount, such as surgery, and air traffic control, where video game play could be encouraged to help develop the elite cognitive performance required.”

The research also investigated a further angle – whether gamers are less prone to suffering from cognitive fatigue than the wider population. Cognitive fatigue is defined as the decline in task performance that entails sustained mental activity. It can manifest in making mistakes and a difficulty staying focused.

Some participants were assigned an additional task, designed to require concentration for a long period of time and bring about cognitive fatigue, before being reevaluated on the initial cognitive tests.

The researchers found that gamers and non-gamers saw their performance decline at the same rate, with no significant difference found in the level of cognitive fatigue experienced. Suggesting that the common belief that playing games can lead to poorer concentration skills may be incorrect.

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