the sims starcraftIn the beginning, scientists and psychologists bashed video games with “statistics” about their negative effects on children or on our brains. However, in the past few years the same scientists and psychologists have taken an about face and have been trying to find out what positive benefits can stem from the same medium they use to speak out against.

In one recent experiment, carried out by the researchers from the Queen Mary University of London and University College London, 72 volunteers were gathered to measure their “cognitive flexibility”, or their ability to adapt and switch between different tasks, and think about multiple ideas at a given time to solve problems. The participants were split into three groups; two of which were trained on how to play different versions of StarCraft, which requires a bit of multitasking when building your armies and organizing them to take out the enemy. The third group was instructed to play The Sims, which doesn’t require near the amount of multitasking as StarCraft does. Although both men and women volunteered for the experiment, not enough men volunteered so the results reported in PLOS ONE only include the women who were enrolled.

Every group had to play their assigned game for 40 hours a week over a period of six to eight weeks and were psychologically evaluated before and after the study. The findings showed that those who played StarCraft were quicker and more accurate during the cognitive tests that were performed after the experiment. This was most likely due in part to the fact that StarCraft has you concentrating on many different tasks at one time, so your brain starts to get used to the extra information and can learn to process it all at once. With the Sims since you aren’t concentrating on too many tasks so your brain doesn’t need to process any extra information.

According to Dr. Brian Glass from Queen Mary’s School of Biology and Chemical Sciences, “Previous research has demonstrated that action video games, such as Halo, can speed up decision making but the current work finds that real-time strategy games can promote our ability to think on the fly and learn from past mistakes. Our paper shows that cognitive flexibility, a cornerstone of human intelligence, is not a static trait but can be trained and improved using fun learning tools like gaming.”

We know that video games can improve different aspects of our mind and body, but we still don’t know the extent of the positive things it can contribute. With scientists doing experiments such as these, it’s only a matter of time till we find out how video games can add years to our lives.