Mental Benefits of Video Games Explored in American Journal of Play

The Strong News Release
One Manhattan Square Rochester, NY 14607 585-263-2700

October 13, 2014

For Immediate Release

Shane Rhinewald, 585-410-6365,

Kim Della Porta, 585-410-6325,

How Super Mario Bros. May Save Your Brain:
Mental Benefits of Video Games Explored
in the Latest Issue of the
American Journal of Play

ROCHESTER, NY—Video game play may help promote job-related skills, teach people complex tasks and abilities, and battle declining mental facilities in old age, according to an examination of video game research published in the most recent issue of The Strong’s American Journal of Play. Authors Adam Eichenbaum, research and teaching assistant University of Wisconsin-Madison; Daphne Bavelier, research professor at the University of Rochester and head of Bavelier Lab at the University of Geneva, Switzlerland; and C. Shawn Green, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, argue that video games serve as serious tools for good—including the enhancement of basic perceptual and cognitive skills.

The researchers write that video games act as effective teaching tools because they a hold a gamer’s attention long enough to create new skills, provide a challenge that must be mentally overcome, and encourage a player to learn a task in many different ways. They say, “Even a simple game like Super Mario Bros. requires players to use a small set of actions in a wide variety of contexts … Not only do they promote an astounding amount of time on task, [but] games also use a number of techniques known to promote efficient and transferable learning.” Different types of video game play may also improve the brain in other ways. According to the authors, action games increase visual attention (making your brain better able to process visual stimuli) and real-time strategy games increase cognitive flexibility (improving the ability to switch between tasks and working memory).

The authors also see real-world and practical uses for video game play. They cite research studies showing where games have been used to retrain individuals with amblyopia (“lazy eye”), help children with dyslexia, improve the flight performance of military pilots, and increase attentiveness of surgeons. They also write that video game play can help the elderly combat age-related declines in cognitive abilities and improve their working memory, executive control, and abstract reasoning. They cite a 2013 study where a group of 65–80 year-old subjects improved on measures of multitasking and cognitive control after training with video games.

The authors say that more research needs to be done on how to most effectively use the games for serious good. “The challenge we now face is to determine those game-design ingredients that most effectively help, for example, an Alzheimer’s patient fight cognitive decay or more efficiently teach a 12-year-old mathematics.”

This special issue of the American Journal of Play takes an in-depth look at cognitive neuroaesthetics—an emerging subfield that combines insights of neurological research with the study of aesthetics. The issue is guest edited by Phillip Andre Prager, assistant professor at the IT University of Copenhagen and a Cambridge University-trained art historian. Additional articles in Vol. 7, No. 1 of the American Journal of Play include:

 “Making Sense of the Modernist Muse: Creative Cognition and Play at the Bauhaus” by Phillip A. Prager, assistant professor at the IT University of Copenhagen. Prager examines Germany’s famous art school—the Bauhaus (1919 to 1933)—and concludes that its emphasis on play and positive emotions allowed it an understanding of creative cognition half a century ahead
of science.

“How Play Makes for a More Adaptable Brain: A Comparative Neural Perspective,” by Sergio M. Pellis, professor at the University of Lethbridge Canadian Centre for Behavioral Neuroscience; Vivien C. Pellis; adjunct assistant professor at the University of Lethbridge Canadian Centre for Behavioral Neuroscience; and Brett T. Himmler, graduate student at the University of Lethbridge Canada. The authors argue that the juvenile response to play in rats and some primates helps refine the brain to be more adaptable later in life. Most critically, they say, such play makes animals better able to respond to unexpected situations.

 “To Think without Thinking: The Implications of Combinatory Play and the Creative Process for Neuroaesthetics” by Victoria Stevens, clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst and adjunct member of the faculty at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara. Stevens examines the role of play in the creative process in art and science, arguing that combinatory play (both conscious and unconscious cognitive playful manipulation of two or more ideas) provides an ideal state for the incubation of new ideas.

The complete issue of the American Journal of Play can be accessed freely online at Printed editions are also available for subscription and singly copy purchase.

About the American Journal of Play

The Strong’s American Journal of Play is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary publication that serves as a forum for discussing the history, science, and culture of play. Published three times each year, the Journal includes articles, interviews, and book reviews written for a broad readership that includes educators, psychologists, play therapists, sociologists, anthropologists, folklorists, historians, museum professionals, toy and game designers, policy makers, and others who consider play for a variety of reasons and from various perspectives.