Brain training games claim to boost your mental skills. But while practicing a game might make you better at it, research in young people has shown it doesn’t improve how well you perform other cognitive tasks in everyday life. Now a new study suggests the case may be different for adults above the age of 60. Researchers at the University of California have designed a driving game called NeuroRacer. In this Nature Video, we see how the game can improve an older player’s short-term memory and attention, skills which decline with age.
Read the original research paper here:http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature12486 (from Nature)
There’s no doubt that watching sports is a very popular pastime.
In 2010 alone, there were over 40,500 h of live sporting events on broadcast and cable TV (Neilsen Company, 2011)
However, little is know about the personality traits and the identity of people who like watching sports*.
Appelbaum and colleagues gathered broad demographic, physiological, clinical, psychological, and pastime-preference information from a sample of 293 individuals to see what factors most reliably predicted sport spectating habits. First, they examined possible relationships between watching sports and physiological measures. Saliva was collected and baseline testosterone and cortisol levels were measured. Moreover, 2D:4D digit ratio was calculated for each individual. This measurement is a proxy of prenatal androgen exposure and has been shown to correlate with particular disorders. Secondly, they administered self-report scales looking at ADHD (Jasper/Goldberg adult ADD/ADHD questionnaire) and autism traits (AQ; Autism Spectrum Quotient). Furthermore, they investigated the relationship between sports spectating and personality traits. The NEO personality inventory (NEO-PI-R), which measures the “BigFive” personality traits, and the Barratt Impulsivity Scale (BIS-11) were used. Finally, Appelbaum et al. asked their participants about the pastime activities. The pastime involvement questionnaire asked participants how many hours a week they spend on a number of activities such as reading, playing sports, watching television and movies, and listening to music.
As expected gender and age significantly accounted for the variability in the results. Young males reported spending more time watching sports. High levels of sports spectating were correlated with higher levels of extraversion, excitement seeking and gregariousness on the personality questionnaires. The participants who reported spending more hours watching sports also engaged more in specific pastime activities, such as participating in sports and exercise, watching TV/movies, and playing video games. No differences were observed in the self-report scales. More specifically, no differences in ADHD or autism symptoms were found between people who watch sports and people who don’t. Likewise, the authors didn’t find any relationship between digit ratio and sports watching.
No relationship was found between baseline concentrations of cortisol or testosterone and sports spectating. This came as a surprise to the authors who list a number of previous studies that identified higher concentrations of testosterone and cortisol in people who like sports. Now, before jumping to conclusions, take into account that the sport spectators in this study is not your average sports fan! Previous literature has identified two related concepts; fans and spectators. Even though those groups have some overlapping qualities, there are some key differences.
…a fan is typically associated with an emotional link to a sport or team, while a spectator is a more neutral descriptor of an individual who consumes sports (Wann & Dolan, 2001).
In this study, they were interested only in sports spectators (defined by the hours they spend watching sports). This could possibly explain why no relationship was found between sports watching and cortisol concentration.
Also, I think that there must be differences between spectators of different types of sports (e.g. rugby, tennis, snooker). The authors didn’t examined this, but it’d be interesting to see a study looking at differences in sports preferences between people who enjoy watching sports.
Gregory Appelbaum, L., Cain, M., Darling, E., Stanton, S., Nguyen, M., & Mitroff, S. (2011). What is the identity of a sports spectator? Personality and Individual Differences DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2011.10.048
* Academics are probably not very keen on sports?
Everyone is familiar with Tetris. This simple, but addictive game has been studied quite a few times by researchers (see older post). A group from the University of Oxford investigated whether Tetris could be used as a “cognitive vaccine” against flashback development after trauma exposure. Flashbacks are one of the most persistent symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
In a previous study the same group had shown that playing Tetris after viewing traumatic material reduced flashbacks compared to no-task on healthy volunteers.
In their new study they investigated whether other games could have this effect via distraction/enjoyment by conducting two experiments. More specifically, Holmes and colleagues compared the effectiveness of Tetris with Pub Quiz, a general knowledge, verbal computer game. In both experiments, the participants viewed film footage that contained scenes of death and injury. Then a group played Tetris, another Pub Quiz and a third one (control condition) was not give any task. In the first experiment the participants played Tetris or Pub Quiz 30 minutes after being exposed to the traumatic film. In the second there was a gap of 4 hours between the time the videos were presented and the time the tasks were performed.
In both experiments playing Tetris led to a significant reduction in flashbacks compared to no-task control. Pub Quiz in first experiment had the opposite effect and led to an increase of traumatic flashbacks. No such effect was observed when the task was performed 4 hours post-film.
According to the authors this is the first study to provide evidence:
that different computer games have differential effects on the development of flashbacks post-trauma… This was the case despite the games being rated as equally as enjoyable and as of similar difficulty.
The different effects of these games suggest that further research is needed before using computer games as psychological interventions in healthcare, as not all computer games are beneficial – some may even be harmful.
Holmes and colleagues explain this differential pattern of findings via their model of trauma memory formation from cognitive science. According to this theory:
1) Human memory differentiates visual and verbal components
2) Pathological trauma flashbacks consist of sensory, visual images
3) Cognitive science shows that visuospatial cognitive tasks compete for resources with visual images
4) The biology of memory consolidation suggests a 6 hour time frame post-trauma within which memories are malleable
5) Thus, visuospatial cognitive tasks given within 6 hours post-trauma will interfere with visual flashback memory consolidation, and reduce later flashbacks, as demonstrated in our previous study
6) In contrast, verbal tasks post-trauma will not reduce flashbacks as verbal tasks compete with verbal, conceptual processing of the event but not the visual images that make up flashbacks
7) Further, verbal tasks post-trauma will compete with the type of verbal-conceptual processing necessary to make sense of what has happened and from clinical models may serve to increase (rather then reduce) later trauma flashbacks
These findings are quite promising and could lead to a possible development of a computerized “cognitive vaccine” against the development of flashbacks for trauma in the future.
Holmes, E., James, E., Kilford, E., & Deeprose, C. (2010). Key Steps in Developing a Cognitive Vaccine against Traumatic Flashbacks: Visuospatial Tetris versus Verbal Pub Quiz PLoS ONE, 5 (11) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013706
Can videogames boost up our brain? A new study by Richard J Haier, Sherif Karama, Leonard Leyba and Rex E Jung suggests that Tetris – the popular and addictive game, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year – may boost the size and efficiency of parts of the brain.
The researchers scanned the brains of 15 girls adolescent girls who had played tetris for three months and they found that certain areas grew thicker compared to the structural scans of controls. More specifically, they found structural differences in the BA6 (Brodmann area 6) in the left frontal lobe and BA 22 and BA 38 in the left temporal lobe. BA 6 is considered to play a role in the planning of complex, coordinated movements. The other two areas ( BA 22 and BA 38) are believed to be involved in multisensory integration.