A desire to rule the world may be a good thing if you're over 60 and worried about losing your mental faculties. A new study found that adults in their 60s and 70s can improve a number of cognitive functions by playing a strategic video game that rewards nation-building and territorial expansion.
This is the first such study of older adults, and it is the first to find such pronounced effects on cognitive skills not directly related to the skills learned in the video game, said University of Illinois psychology professor Arthur Kramer, an author on the study.
The research appears this month in the journal Psychology & Aging.
Decades of laboratory studies designed to improve specific cognitive skills, such as short-term memory, have found again and again that trainees improve almost exclusively on the tasks they perform in the lab and only under laboratory conditions, Kramer said.
"When you train somebody on a task they tend to improve in that task, whatever it is, but it usually doesn't transfer much beyond that skill or beyond the particular situation in which they learned it," he said. "And there are virtually no studies that examine whether there's any transfer outside the lab to things people care about."
Kramer and his colleagues wanted to know whether a more integrated training approach could go beyond the training environment to enhance the cognitive skills used in every day life. Specifically, the researchers wondered whether interactive video games might benefit those cognitive functions that decline most with age.
"Older people tend to fare less well on things that are called executive control processes," Kramer said. "These include things like scheduling, planning, working memory, multitasking and dealing with ambiguity."
After testing several video games, the researchers selected "Rise of Nations," which gives gamers points for building cities and "wonders," feeding and em
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign