The Applications of this Technology

Image: Microsoft.

Adam Gazzaley, director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center and co-founder of Alkali Interactive Labs, has focused his research on the development of effective approaches to enhance cognitive abilities in both healthy and impaired individuals. He indicates that the current treatment protocol for mild cognitive impairment is somewhat deficient and proposes that the approach should “be targeted, personalized, multi-modal, and closed-loop” to ensure effectiveness.

Subsequently, Gazzaley noted that video games can serve as potent interactive tools to promote cognitive enhancement. His company is working to get video games evaluated through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as diagnostic and therapeutic tools for treating attention deficit disorder, depression, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease and autism. [5]

Furthermore, a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has commissioned the design and testing of two educational games to help eighth graders develop beneficial social and emotional skills through gaming that emphasizes kindness and compassion, instead of the expected violence and aggression. This is being researched in the hope to capitalize on the time most middle class children spend on a smartphone or device for constructive purposes, as opposed to the time wasting most parents deem “screen time” as. [2]

With the increasing evidence that intensive use of video games (more than nine hours per week) results in significant enhancements in cognitive function, it should be noted that in school age children, there is an inverse correlation with academic achievement in spite of cognitive development. This is arguably due to increased time spent playing video games instead of doing curriculum based activities. [6]

Mariano Sigman of the University of Buenos Aires coordinated an initiative which comprised a series of brain training games for school going children from low socioeconomic groups. The games were developed to train different aspects of executive function, such as capacity planning, working memory and inhibitory behavior in order to regulate through patterns and behavior.

The results revealed that the games improved the cognitive function which subsequently improved academic performance at school, in addition to a significant increase in brain tissue in the ventral striatal circuit and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the decision making region. [6]

This research has actually been applied in a real educational framework, and thus represents a revolutionary effort in educational tools that have cognitive benefits to be used universally within the education system.

These games not only have effects on cognitive function, but promote social and emotional development in addition. A recent study revealed that when students were required to play a certain video game revolving around building mathematics skills and problem solving with each other, as opposed to playing alone, they exhibited a “mastery mindset” that is exceedingly conducive to learning.

Furthermore, the students reported a higher level of enjoyment and interest when playing in groups. [5]

Research also suggests that video games encourage and motivate students to learn less popular subjects, such as mathematics, by providing the content in a much more fun and interesting way. [5]

If video games are implemented appropriately, they have the potential to provide a robust basis for critical thinking and project-based learning. Video games are designed to garner the skills indispensable for navigating the multifaceted, interconnected and ever changing contemporary world. Digital literacy and understanding is a prerequisite of life currently, and will only become more important as the world moves further into the technological revolution.

As an assessment tool, video games provide educators will instantaneous feedback regarding their students and determine how well as student understands the material covering the foundation of the games. This allows teachers to make changes or customize games and methods for each student on an ongoing basis and provide personalized education, where with traditional teaching methods and standardized testing there is no margin for modification.

(Next page: Gamification and drawbacks)

About the Author:

Tamara Sneyd is a Science Graduate currently living in South Africa and writing full time.