This probably doesn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who's found themselves hyper-alert at hour 10 of a Call of Duty marathon, but it probably does for the rest of us: a study published yesterday in Nature has found that training with a specially designed video game can actually enhance certain cognitive abilities in older people.
The research team, led by Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco, designed a special video game called NeuroRacer, which was meant to target a specific skill that gets worse with age: multitasking, something which the researchers say "has become ubiquitous in today's technologically dense world."
Here's how the study worked: adults between the ages of 60 and 85 were put through a four-week training period with NeuroRacer. Their task was to drive along a winding road, controlling the car in the game with their left thumb. Now and then, signs would appear on the screen, which they would have to shoot down with their right hand (that's where the multitasking came in).
After the training period, Gazzaley's team put those same subjects through a battery of tests. Not surprisingly, their game performance was much improved over the month, rivaling that of untrained 20-year-olds. What was surprising, however, were the effects on other cognitive abilities: the subjects showed significant boosts in attention and working memory. What's more, these gains persisted for six months after the tests.
While NeuroRacer is not available for purchase, a company co-founded by Gazzaley is developing a mobile video game based on the findings from the study. And of course, none of this should be taken as an excuse to carry on to hour 11 of that Call of Duty marathon.