Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Do video games keep the brain young?

Can playing certain games decrease cognitive decline or even enhance cognitive performance in the aging population?

Guido Band

Old age inevitably affects cognitive flexibility and working memory capacity, which is a growing problem for the aging society and the individual. Cognitive training can slow down decay, but is experienced as aversive. In contrast, dedicated computer games may protect against cognitive decline, while being entertaining. Unfortunately, there is an alarming lack of effectiveness studies of these games. As such, there is a strong need to investigate whether computer games have beneficial effects on older adults’ cognitive health at all. The current project therefore involves randomized controlled intervention studies into the trainability of cognitive control in older adults. In the interventions, the older adults practice several types of games and are tested on multiple cognitive abilities. Although the focus is on cognitive control, the investment of time and effort will be used to simultaneously train and assess multiple cognitive functions as well as motivational aspects of the gaming interventions.


One example of such a study was a 4 week game-based cognitive training study. To test whether transfer of performance benefits relies on increased working memory capacity, better attention, or improved flexibility, eighty students were randomly assigned to three types of games, targeting task set flexibility, selective attention, or (as a control condition) simple math. The game intervention consisted of 20 daily game training sessions of 45 minutes. Within each condition four online adaptive brain-training games were alternated. Participants completed a task switching task, and tasks measuring selective attention and working memory, prior to and following the game intervention. Brain potentials (ERPs) were acquired during task performance. The main questions was whether improvements were larger for the group that received a target training than for the groups that did not, and whether ERP measures or time frequency analysis could clarify the underlying mechanism. 

A planned study associated with this project, is the Lifestyle 2030 study which is part of the larger “De Leidse Proeftuin” project. 

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