How Having Fun Playing Video Games Can Make You Smarter

Whether you want to improve your physical fitness or your intelligence, you need some of the same ingredients.  You need motivation, repeated opportunities for practice, and intense and sustained effort.  Until 10 years ago, psychologists thought that cognitive skills such as fluid intelligence, working memory, and processing speed were essentially fixed by an individual’s biology. We now know that this is not the case, and a recent New York Times article, “Can you Make Yourself Smarter”, describes the promising research that supports the use of video games as training to improve intelligence.

Ann Hurley provides details about how playing video games can improve fluid intelligence and describes the research conducted by Susanne Jaeggi, Martin Buschkuehl, and Torkel Klingberg.  The key discovery of these studies was that motivation and effort combined with specific types of game-based cognitive training have a transfer effect so that improvements in the games resulted in improvement in tasks that transferred “to another task that was totally different”.

While neuroscientists have observed how cognitive training works for a variety of structured research projects, there is some question as to how to motivate individuals to engage in the repeated practice, intensity and duration of training that is necessary for real-world improvements. Cognitive training works for adults as well as children, and determining what techniques might motivate a particular individual is the key to success.  Taking the work presented in the New York Times article a bit further, we suggest a number of strategies that may be helpful in motivating individuals in sustaining their effort and intensity of cognitive training necessary for improvements:

  • Make the training itself interesting and engaging.  Use video games that are fun in and of themselves. The games themselves should be fun to play with secondary benefits of cognitive fitness.
  • Using external rewards will help in putting forth the extra effort necessary for more difficult tasks.
  • Competition often spurs growth and development. Helping the individual compete against their own past, but also against family, friends, or classmates may be beneficial.
  • Varying the games and challenges is helpful.  This helps to reduce boredom, works on slightly different subsets of skills, and encourages duration of effort.
  • Providing feedback about performance is very useful.  Providing feedback regarding an individual’s performance in the games can be very helpful.  This type of direct feedback can help a person to see their mastery.
  • Employ gamification strategies such as earning badges, points, and social networking status to encourage sustained effort and interaction.

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