Studies on whether playing videogames improves cognitive abilities have often found conflicting results. Nash Unsworth (Oregon) and his colleagues (2015) point out several methodological and statistical limitations in past studies showing that videogame players have better cognitive abilities than non-videogame players. For example, many of these studies compare the most experienced videogame players with non-videogame players, ignoring those in-between. By excluding those with moderate levels of experience, very small sample sizes are left and this can cause all kinds of problems.
To improve on past work, Unsworth and his colleagues (2015) did two studies based on large samples, using many different cognitive measures, and examining both extreme groups (experienced versus non-gamers) and the full range of videogame experience. In Study 1, 198 participants completed various measures of cognitive abilities along with a videogame experience questionnaire. The extreme-groups analysis, which included only 47 participants, found that gamers outperformed non-gamers on many of the cognitive ability measures. These results are consistent with other studies that use this same method. However, when looking at the full range of participants, very few associations were found between videogame playing and cognitive abilities. In a second study, 466 participants completed very similar measures to those used in Study 1 and a similar result was observed: there were few associations between videogame playing and cognitive abilities.
These studies provide important insight into the question of whether videogames can improve cognitive abilities. It may be that associations between videogame playing experience and cognitive abilities only occurs for those who play very frequently. In addition, it may be that the genre or type of videogame is important. Future research will hopefully help to clarify these issues.
Posted by Riana Fisher
Unsworth, N., Redick, T. S., Mcmillan, B. D., Hambrick, D. Z., Kane, M. J., & Engle, R. W. (2015). Is Playing Video Games Related to Cognitive Abilities? Psychological Science, 26, 759-774. doi:10.1177/0956797615570367
* For a copy of the original article, please contact R. Mar (see profile for e-mail).