Examining Cognitive and Brain Functions Through Video Games
Students: Cassie Farber ’23, Navami Shenoy ’23, and Emma Zajac ’23
Research Mentor: Kira Bailey (OWU Department of Psychology and OWU Neuroscience Program)
Commercial video game consumption has been linked to changes in cognitive control, the processes that allows us to plan and execute our goal-directed behavior. Some studies identify positive changes in cognitive control, while others demonstrate negative changes. Commercial video games are not specifically designed to train cognitive abilities, so it is difficult to know which aspects of the games are causing the various effects. We created video games that allow the researcher to manipulate individual variables to better ascertain the effects of specific game features on brain activity and behavior; the first study will collect data online to assess behavior.
A growing body of evidence suggests that action video game (AVG) experience is associated with improvements in visual/spatial attention and cognitive control (Green & Bavelier, 2003, 2006, 2007; Green, Pouget, & Bavelier, 2010) and changes in brain function (Knols et al., 2017). The significance of this finding lies in the implication that the skills acquired in an AVG might be transferred to other contexts (Boot, Blakely, & Simons, 2011; Green & Bavelier, 2003). This has led some researchers (Bavelier et al., 2012; Green & Bavelier, 2008) to recommend the use of AVGs in training protocols among populations that would benefit from enhanced visual attention and cognition (e.g., older adults, pilots, military personnel). However, these recommendations may be premature; there are several methodological criticisms of the past research (Boot, Blakely, & Simons, 2011; Bisoglio et al., 2014), one of which is that the use of readily available commercial video games does not allow for strong experimental control over the numerous variables that could influence cognitive skills. The current study used Unreal Engine 4 to create three video games that allow the researcher to manipulate individual variables to better ascertain the effects of specific game features on brain activity and behavior. To show proof of concept, each game simulates a standard laboratory assessment of cognitive control; two simulate the Flanker task (Ericksen & Ericksen, 1974) and the third video game simulates the N-back task (Kirchner, 1958). An online study was designed to collect behavioral data using one of the games based on the Flanker task. The realistic video game used in the study should provide behavioral data comparable to behavioral data obtained from the traditional Flanker task, while also providing insight into the mechanisms for video game effects on cognition.