Joaquin Anguera, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, filmed a demonstration of the NeuroRacer video game. | YouTube
Brain scientists have discovered that swerving around cars while simultaneously picking out road signs in a video game can improve the short-term memory and long-term focus of older adults. Some people as old as 80, the researchers say, begin to show neurological patterns of people in their 20s.
Cognitive scientists say the findings, to be published Thursday in the scientific journal Nature, are a significant development in understanding how to strengthen older brains. That is because the improvements in brain performance did not come just within the game but were shown outside the game in other cognitive tasks.
Further supporting the findings, the researchers were able to measure and show changes in brain wave activity, suggesting that this research could help understand what neurological mechanisms should and could be tinkered with to improve memory and attention. The research “shows you can take older people who aren’t functioning well and make them cognitively younger through this training,” said Earl K. Miller, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was not affiliated with the research. “It’s a very big deal.”
The study highlights an emerging field in which researchers are trying to better define and even expand the limits of attention, which is seen as crucial to performance, memory and intelligence. Previous studies, done at the University of Rochester and focused more on young people, show that heavy use of certain off-the-shelf, intense shooting games can lead to improvements in a user’s ability to ignore distractions, and even learn. Daphne Bavelier, who led that research, cautioned that the field was young, and that brain training could have side effects, like changing how the brain functions for the worse. “We know we can rewire the brain, but the challenge is how to do it properly,” she said. “We’re in the primitive age of brain training.”Read more at NYT