World of Warcraft could give your grandparents’ brains a boost

Next time you sit down to play some World of Warcraft (WoW), consider having a parent or grandparent take a crack at it, instead — new research shows that the MMO can actually boost cognitive functioning in older adults. Plus, there’s a decent chance they’ll actually enjoy playing it. What… you aren’t afraid of getting your ass kicked by a senior citizen, are you?

"One day I had my grandma play WoW with me, and after two hours she told me she had to take a nap, because she hadn’t had to think that hard in a very long time," explained psychologist Jason Allaire, co-author on a recently published paper describing the findings.

"So I thought, why don’t we try to find a way to harness something like this so we can improve cognitive function?"

Allaire, along with colleagues Laura Whitlock and Anne McLaughlin, set about doing exactly that. The team started by recruiting 39 volunteers between the ages of 60 and 77 and testing their performance across a variety of cognitive skills, like focus and spatial reasoning. Test participants were then divided into two groups. Members of the experimental group had WoW installed on their home computers, and were asked to put in at least an hour of gameplay a day over the course of two weeks before having their cognitive abilities retested. Members of the control group were also retested in two weeks’ time, but they did not play any WoW in the interim.

The researchers found that, as a whole, the WoW group saw a greater increase in cognitive performance than the control group, though improvements tended to vary on a person-to-person basis. Interestingly, the volunteers who saw the greatest improvements in cognitive abilities were those who had scored lowest on the initial, baseline test that had been administered two weeks prior.

In other words, explains Allaire, “the people who needed it most saw the greatest improvements.”

Allaire and McLaughlin are co-directors of North Carolina State’s Gains Through Gaming Laboratory. In 2009, the two received a million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to study how video games might improve cognitive abilities in the elderly.

Allaire and McLaughlin have looked at the cognitive benefits of various video games in the past, but WoW was a particularly attractive option. Players can learn the game at their own pace, it’s socially interactive, and gamers can play for hundreds of hours and still find themselves presented with novel challenges.

Of course, you can’t dismiss the fact that the game is also pretty fun.

Playing ‘World of Warcraft’ Boosts Spatial Ability and Focus in Adults

The game improves cognitive functioning in older players because it requires multitasking and extensive use of brain-based skills.
Researchers from North Carolina State University’s Gains Through Gaming laboratory have found that playing the massive multiplayer online video game World of Warcraft (WoW) appeared to boost cognitive functioning in older adults. The researchers hypothesized that playing a cognitively complex game such as WoW, which requires multitasking and extensive use of a number of cognitive skills such as map reading, planning, and tracking of multiple status indicators, could boost the cognitive performance of the elderly.

The study, which is available online as a corrected proof at the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, initially examined the spatial ability, memory, and focus of adults aged 60 to 77, to set a baseline. An intervention group of 20 adults then played WoW for roughly 14 hours over the course of two weeks, while a control group of 19 adults played no WoW over the two weeks. At the end of the two weeks both groups were re-tested for cognitive functioning. Ultimately the researchers observed a greater cognitive improvement in the intervention group when compared with the controls.

According to the press release:

    Among participants who scored well on baseline cognitive functioning tests, there was no significant improvement after playing WoW — they were already doing great, McLaughlin says [Dr. Anne McLaughlin, an investigator involved in the study]. But we saw significant improvement in both spatial ability and focus for participants who scored low on the initial baseline tests. Pre- and post-game testing showed no change for participants on memory.

It is certainly an interesting finding, but hopefully not one that will have psychology students downing books for joypads. On the upside, it looks like World of Warcraft just creeped to the top of our “Things to do when we retire” list.

There are plenty of ways how to keep your brain active when we get older. Playing video games is one of them.The researchers said that they chose WoW for their study because they believed the game had the potential of “producing benefits” as it is seen as a “cognitively challenging game in a socially interactive environment that presents users with novel situations.”

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World of Warcraft is Good for Grandparents’ Brains

For many years, researchers have conducted various studies on the effects games and play can have on the aging brain.

Games specifically designed to enhance certain kinds of thinking, like Brain Age, may or may not always have the intended effect. However, a team of researchers have found that perhaps mainstream games, not expressly designed for brain training of any sort, can in fact improve senior citizens’ cognitive ability.

The Los Angeles Times reports on the most recent findings from North Carolina State University’s Gains Through Gaming Lab:

    To test their theory, the researchers asked 39 adults ages 60 to 77 to play World of Warcraft for roughly two hours a day over a two-week period. They gave the test group a cognitive exam before the two-week period began, and again after the two weeks were up. They also had a control group of adults who did not play the game.

    The researchers found that two weeks of playing World of Warcraft didn’t have much effect on the cognitive abilities of the people who had scored well on the baseline test, but there was significant improvement in both spatial ability and focus for the participants who scored low on the initial test.

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