Video Game Improves Multitasking Skills

NeuroRacer 3D GameDoes multitasking seem to be getting tougher for you as the years pass? In fact, that’s quite normal. By the time you are 40, multitasking is nearly twice as challenging as when you were 20. The good news is that playing a video game has just been shown to improve cognitive function and, in particular, multitasking ability in healthy older adults. Adults subjects from 60 to 85 years old became as effective at multitasking as 20 year-olds after just a month of training, according to a new UCSF study.

multitasking improvementWhile brain training games are being offered by commercial firms, there has been criticism of the research backing up some of the offerings. The new study was published in Nature, which should blunt some of the inevitable skepticism. The game used in the test was a 3D racing game, NeuroRacer, developed specifically for the project. Players have to drive a car around a winding track while watching for specific road signs, taking action only when they see specific signs.

Working memory and sustained attention were also improved by playing the game.

Gazzaley is a founding board member of Akili Interactive Labs, a firm which says it employs “cutting-edge neuroscience insights, rigorous clinical validation and state-of-the-art game mechanics” to develop brain training games.

This is quite a remarkable result, and it will be interesting to see if younger age categories can also experience improvements in multitasking from this or other games. Looking at the chart of “normal” decline, it’s easy to imagine many middle-aged people striving to return to peak multi-tasking performance.

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Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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9 responses to "Video Game Improves Multitasking Skills" — Your Turn

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John Carvalho 10. September 2013 at 11:47 am

Roger,

This is interesting research! The criticism around earlier research in this space has always been its larger applicability- in other words, training someone to perform a certain set of tasks can make real, powerful changes in their ability to perform that specific set of tasks but not necessarily a difference in much else.

The question, to me, is whether these neurological changes that this game has motivated will lead to increased performance in areas or modalities that are outside the confines of the methodology of the game, and if so, to what extent.

Definitely a promising line of research- will be interesting to see where it goes.

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Walter W. 10. September 2013 at 12:47 pm

I am not convinced by this research because it doesn’t address the causes nor the real nature of cognitive decline. It only shows we tend to confuse brain wear with laziness.

While getting older, that is with experience, people develop strategies to avoid difficulties. They find ways of avoiding challenging tasks and, as expected, their brain becomes lazy at the tasks they stopped doing. Use it or lose it. Video games like NeuroRacer reintroduce effort in people’s lives. They go back at the level of performance they would have never lost if they had remained active.

However, there is no evidence those games compensate for the effective wear of the brain, the abilities that everyone loses with age, no matter how active one is. Video games don’t improve general cognitive functions no more than any type of effort displace laziness. People who stopped thinking benefit from any mental activity but it won’t make them young again, like many articles seem to imply.

That said, on the other hand, those studies prove that age is not an excuse for letting ourselves go out of shape. If you are worst at multitasking than 20 year-olds (nobody is good at multitasking), it only means you are out of shape, not senile.

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Aaron 13. September 2013 at 12:00 pm

Videos games are great at training multitasking, spacial awareness, reaction times, hand eye coordination, and teamwork.

The military uses them to practice tactics and train soldiers reaction times and hand eye coordination.

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Alain Bransford 19. September 2013 at 3:45 am

Interesting post, Roger. Are there any particular kinds of video games that help improve multitasking, or would any kind do?

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Roger Dooley
Twitter: rogerdooley
19. September 2013 at 12:57 pm

Alain, this study used a game specifically designed for the purpose. It’s hard to say what other types of game would do.

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Kuldeep 30. October 2013 at 6:46 am

I am confused!! I thought studies had conclusively shown that multitasking is impossible. The brain may switch from one task to another quickly, but you are still only really focusing on one thing at a time. Have subsequent studies shown otherwise?

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Vincent McFarley 19. November 2013 at 3:19 am

Psychologists have always believe that any activity that stimulates creativity can help the brain perform better. Video games consists of several quests to finish them and a player has to find ways to fulfill them resulting in creative flow of brain juice. Hence its only natural that they get better in multi tasking as well.

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Kishore Bhagya 24. November 2013 at 4:42 am

In this post, I ask 19 questions about a paper just published in Nature that has received extensive media coverage. The paper showed that multitasking training of older adults led to improved performance and transfer to other outcome measures. My questions address. thanks

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Kiran 12. March 2014 at 7:45 am

We have a variant of this game check out http://brainturk.com/cognoracer

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