Many studies have disputed the actual efficacy of "brain trainer" games, but new research surrounding PopCap games suggests casual games may have a positive effect on cognition.
Though it was PopCap's games, like Bejeweled and Peggle, that were used in the study, the company didn't itself underwrite the research, which was conducted by East Carolina University's Psychophysiology Lab. It's been underway for almost six months and will continue for the better part of this year, and consumers age 50 and older are participating -- more than 40 have joined the study so far.
Thus far, the study's finding visible improvements in short-term cognition among the participants playing casual games -- promising news for health professionals interested in ways to provide mental exercise for the aging and those with dementia-family disorders like Alzheimer's.
"The initial results of the study are very intriguing, in that they suggest that the 'active participation' required while playing a casual video game like Bejeweled provides an opportunity for mental exercise that more passive activities, like watching television, do not," said Dr. Carmen Russoniello, director of the ECU lab conducting the study.
Researchers measured and tracked the participants' brain waves via electroencephalography (EEG) -- one group played the games, and a control group didn't. The study found that subjects who played casual games for 30 minute periods showed an 87 percent improvement in cognitive response time and a 215 percent increase in executive functioning. This makes it, according to ECU, about as effective as other medical treatments for cognition.
"Video games with more complex rules and controls, and more sophisticated or detailed imagery — so-called 'hardcore' video games — might provide similar cognitive benefits for many people," said Russoniello.
"But those games take significantly longer to learn to play and appeal to a considerably narrower subset of the overall population, especially older consumers. In our experience, 'casual' video games are ideal both in terms of their accessibility and ease of understanding and because they appeal to nearly everyone."