Selling points: What cognitive abilities are tapped by casual video games?

Pauline L. Baniqued, Hyunkyu Lee, Michelle W. Voss, Chandramallika Basak, Joshua D. Cosman, Shanna DeSouza, Joan Severson, Timothy A. Salthouse, Arthur F. Kramer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The idea that video games or computer-based applications can improve cognitive function has led to a proliferation of programs claiming to "train the brain." However, there is often little scientific basis in the development of commercial training programs, and many research-based programs yield inconsistent or weak results. In this study, we sought to better understand the nature of cognitive abilities tapped by casual video games and thus reflect on their potential as a training tool. A moderately large sample of participants (n = 209) played 20 web-based casual games and performed a battery of cognitive tasks. We used cognitive task analysis and multivariate statistical techniques to characterize the relationships between performance metrics. We validated the cognitive abilities measured in the task battery, examined a task analysis-based categorization of the casual games, and then characterized the relationship between game and task performance. We found that games categorized to tap working memory and reasoning were robustly related to performance on working memory and fluid intelligence tasks, with fluid intelligence best predicting scores on working memory and reasoning games. We discuss these results in the context of overlap in cognitive processes engaged by the cognitive tasks and casual games, and within the context of assessing near and far transfer. While this is not a training study, these findings provide a methodology to assess the validity of using certain games as training and assessment devices for specific cognitive abilities, and shed light on the mixed transfer results in the computer-based training literature. Moreover, the results can inform design of a more theoretically-driven and methodologically-sound cognitive training program.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-86
Number of pages13
JournalActa Psychologica
Volume142
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2013

Keywords

  • Casual games
  • Cognitive training
  • Fluid intelligence
  • Reasoning
  • Video games
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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  • Cite this

    Baniqued, P. L., Lee, H., Voss, M. W., Basak, C., Cosman, J. D., DeSouza, S., Severson, J., Salthouse, T. A., & Kramer, A. F. (2013). Selling points: What cognitive abilities are tapped by casual video games? Acta Psychologica, 142(1), 74-86. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actpsy.2012.11.009