Learning executive function skills by playing focused video games

Jocelyn Parong, Richard E. Mayer, Logan Fiorella, Andrew MacNamara, Bruce D. Homer, Jan Plass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The objective of the present study was to determine whether it is possible to design a video game that could help students improve their executive function skill of shifting between competing tasks and the conditions under which playing the game would lead to improvements on cognitive tests of shifting. College students played a custom video game, Alien Game, which required the executive function skill of shifting between competing tasks. When students played for 2 h over 4 sessions they developed significantly better performance on cognitive shifting tests compared to a control group that played a different game (d = 0.62), but not when they played for 1 h over 2 sessions. Students who played Alien Game at a high level of challenge (i.e., reaching a high level in the game) developed significantly better performance on cognitive shifting tests compared to controls when they played for 2 h (Experiment 1, d = 1.44), but not when they played for 1 h (Experiment 2). Experiment 3 replicated the results of Experiment 1 using an inactive control group, showing that playing Alien Game for 2 h resulted in significant improvements in shifting skills (d = 0.78). Results show the effectiveness of playing a custom-made game that focuses on a specific executive function skill for sufficient time at an appropriate level of challenge. Results support the specific transfer of general skills theory, in which practice of a cognitive skill in a game context transferred to performance on the same skill in a non-game context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-151
Number of pages11
JournalContemporary Educational Psychology
Volume51
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017

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Keywords

  • Cognitive training
  • Computer games
  • Executive function
  • Serious games
  • Video games

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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