World of Warcraft boosts cognitive functioning in some older adults

February 22, 2012

For some older adults, the online video game World of Warcraft (WoW) may provide more than just an opportunity for escapist adventure. Researchers from North Carolina State University have found that playing WoW actually boosted cognitive functioning for older adults – particularly those adults who had scored poorly on cognitive ability tests before playing the game.

"We chose because it has attributes we felt may produce benefits – it is a cognitively challenging game in a socially interactive environment that presents users with novel situations," says Dr. Anne McLaughlin, an assistant professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the study. "We found there were improvements, but it depended on each participant's baseline cognitive functioning level."

Researchers from NC State's Gains Through Gaming laboratory first tested the cognitive functioning of study participants, aged 60 to 77, to set a baseline. The researchers looked at cognitive abilities including spatial ability, memory and how well participants could focus their attention.

An "experimental" group of study participants then played WoW on their home computers for approximately 14 hours over the course of two weeks, before being re-tested. A "control" group of study participants did not play WoW, but were also re-tested after two weeks.

Comparing the cognitive functioning test scores of participants in the experimental and control groups, the researchers found the group that played WoW saw a much greater increase in cognitive functioning, though the effect varied according to each participant's baseline score.

"Among participants who scored well on baseline tests, there was no significant improvement after playing WoW – they were already doing great," McLaughlin says. "But we saw significant improvement in both spatial ability and focus for participants who scored low on the initial baseline tests." Pre- and post-game testing showed no change for participants on memory.

"The people who needed it most – those who performed the worst on the initial testing – saw the most improvement," says Dr. Jason Allaire, an associate professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the study.

Explore further: In older adults, fluctuating sense of control linked to cognitive ability

More information: The paper, "Individual differences in response to cognitive training: Using a multi-modal, attentionally demanding game-based intervention for older adults," is published online in Computers in Human Behavior.

Related Stories

In older adults, fluctuating sense of control linked to cognitive ability

February 13, 2012
Everyone has moments when they feel more in control of their lives than at other times. New research from North Carolina State University shows that this sense of control fluctuates more often, and more quickly, than previously ...

Brain training computer game improves some cognitive functions relatively quickly

January 11, 2012
The brain training computer game "Brain Age" can improve executive functions and processing speed, even with a relatively short training period, but does not affect global cognitive status or attention, according to a study ...

Violent video games alter brain function in young men

November 30, 2011
A functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis of long-term effects of violent video game play on the brain has found changes in brain regions associated with cognitive function and emotional control in young adult ...

Enhancing cognition in older adults also changes personality

January 18, 2012
A program designed to boost cognition in older adults also increased their openness to new experiences, researchers report, demonstrating for the first time that a non-drug intervention in older adults can change a personality ...

Recommended for you

Researchers crack the smile, describing three types by muscle movement

July 27, 2017
The smile may be the most common and flexible expression, used to reveal some emotions, cover others and manage social interactions that have kept communities secure and organized for millennia.

Even babies can tell who's the boss, UW research says

July 27, 2017
The charismatic colleague, the natural leader, the life of the party - all are personal qualities that adults recognize instinctively. These socially dominant types, according to repeated studies, also tend to accomplish ...

Ketamine for depression encouraging, but questions remain around long-term use

July 27, 2017
A world-first systematic review into the safety of ketamine as a treatment for depression, published in the prestigious Lancet Psychiatry, shows the risks of long-term ketamine treatment remain unclear.

DREAMers at greater risk for mental health distress

July 27, 2017
Immigrants who came to the United States illegally as small children and who meet the requirements of the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, more commonly known as DREAMers, are at risk for mental health ...

Negativity, be gone—new online tool can retrain your brain

July 27, 2017
Anxiety and depression can have devastating effects on people's lives. In some cases, the mental disorders lead to isolation, poverty and poor physical health, things that often cascade to future generations.

Research aims to shape more precise treatments for depression in women

July 27, 2017
Among women in the United States, depression is at epidemic levels: Approximately 12 million women in the U.S. experience clinical depression each year, and more than 12 percent of women can expect to experience depression ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.