“Brain training” video games that promise to strengthen, enlarge and rejuvenate the brain have used ads that play on fears of aging and Alzheimer’s disease. In one European TV ad, actress Nicole Kidman proclaims she keeps her mind feeling young by playing a video game. Other ads imply academic and professional success will follow from playing the games.
It’s powerful marketing, but can you really keep your mind sharp by playing video games? And if so, which ones? Is it better for your brain to play a serious quiz or puzzle game than it is to play your favorite adventure game?
Pr. Alain Lieury, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Rennes, wanted to collect scientific data and analyze it to decide whether these advertising statements should be taken for granted or not. Lieury is the author of research studies and books on memory, a frequent keynote speaker at scientific conferences, and has appeared on radio and TV programs throughout Europe.
He used Minitab® Statistical Software to study the effect video games have on a person’s brainpower—or, to put it in more academic terms, “cognitive aptitudes.” His research was conducted with Dr. Sonia Lorant (IUFM of Alsace, France).
In the six-week study (with two sessions per week), Lieury and Lorant randomly assigned 88 second-grade students to four groups, and all four groups participated in identical pre- and post-tests. One of the groups did not receive any specific training, thus serving as the control. The other three received 11 sessions of forty-five minutes each of either the Kawashima Brain Training program, the Super Mario video game, or paper-and-pencil games such as word scrambles, mazes, coded messages, solving enigmas, finding the matching figures between two images.
The study tested the hypothesis that training would have a positive impact of at least 20 percent both among the different game groups and in comparison to the control group on pre- and post-tests of sensorimotor aptitudes, visuospatial memory, and attention results.
Lieury used analysis of variance (ANOVA) statistical tests in Minitab to compare pre- and post-test results. Minitab 16 Statistical Software includes the Assistant, a menu-based tool designed to make powerful statistical tools such as hypothesis tests, control charts and regression more accessible to everyone. It even provides interpretation of output and comprehensive reports that easily and clearly present the results.
For this article, we used the Assistant menu to show the results of the one-way ANOVA on Lieury’s data for the bicube test, one of the tasks study participants completed as part of their pre- and post-testing. The bicube test involves a wooden structure made up of two superimposed cubes, which include three levels with four boxes drawn on each. Thus, the bicube consists of 12 boxes. A bicube test evaluates visuospatial memory by requiring subjects to memorize the succession of squares the experimenter points to for one second at a time and in a given order. The number of squares the subject must memorize increases with the number of attempts, and the last number of boxes correctly recalled by the subject is the dependent variable in this test.
The data analysis and graphical summary generated by Minitab’s Assistant menu show that the difference between pre- and post-test results for the four groups is not statistically significant at an alpha level of 0.05.
Compared to the control group that received no training at all, neither the paper-pencil group, nor the Kawashima Brain Training group, nor the Super Mario Brothers group showed results that suggest their training stimulated the visuospatial memory. In other words, the null hypothesis of the study—that the brain training would not have a positive effect—is not rejected.
The potential benefit at the cognitive level from using video games, developing other skills that are less directly practiced at school (visual tracking, memory, visuomotor coordination, reaction time, visuospatial capacities), seems to be weak or nonexistent. “We can state that recreational training will neither be sufficiently specific, for example in comparison to airplane pilot training or studies in architecture, nor sufficiently long in terms of years of training, and series of professional school activities are needed in order to develop such spatial representations,” Lieury says.
Lieury and Lorant’s results suggest that people shouldn’t expect to achieve significant boosts in cognitive ability from playing a video game, regardless of whether it is a “fun” game like Super Mario Brothers or a “serious” game like Brain Age.
Lorant-Royer, S., Munch, C., Mesclé, H., Lieury, A. (2010). Kawashima vs “Super Mario”! Should a game be serious in order to stimulate cognitive aptitudes ? Revue Européenne de Psychologie Appliquée, 60 (2010), 221-232.
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