A new study from the University of California, San Francisco shows that a specially designed mobile video game could improve neural plasticity in older adults, improving their ability to multitask and to filter out distractions. A spin-off company is currently testing a version of the game for the possible treatment of ADHD, depression, or autism spectrum disorders.
The study, published in the September issue of Nature, included three different experiments with a car racing game, called Neuroracer, played on a laptop with a video game controller attached. The game tested multitasking by including two simultaneous sub-games: a 3D driving game, which required players to make left and right turns, slow down, and speed up their car, and a sign-recognition game, where players had to respond to signs on the screen differently depending on whether they included a green circle.
In the first experiment, 174 individuals between the ages of 20 and 79, with about 30 in each decade range, played an assessment version of the game, first with just the sign task and then with the sign task and the driving portion. The difference in performance between the two cases illustrated the participant’s multitasking ability, which researchers found declined progressively from the youngest to the oldest group.
Another experiment was done with a group of 46 adults aged 60 to 85, split into three groups. One group trained on the multitasking game regularly for a month, one trained on a single-task version, and one didn’t train at all. The multitasking group had a significantly improved performance on the game, but the study found that they also improved in other cognitive areas beyond what they practiced.
“What’s most novel here is other abilities that were not directly trained, such as sustained attention, which is vigilance, and working memory, their ability to hold on to something for a short period of time, also improved,” Adam Gazzaley, lead researcher on the study, said during a call with reporters.
The third experiment actually used electroenchephalograph scans to show that the game had a visible effect on the brain itself. The results showed that the multitasking group had significantly more activity in a part of the prefrontal cortex generally agreed to be associated with cognitive control.