Playing games CAN boost brain power, study shows - but not the ones you expect

“Brain training” games have been a huge hit in recent years - and scientists have now proved that video games CAN make people’s minds more agile.

People who forked out for games such as Nintendo’s hit Brain Training series might be disappointed, though - it’s actually hardcore PC strategy games that do the trick.

Playing fast-moving games such as Starcraft 2 regularly helps to promote “cognitive flexibility” - described by the researchers as “thinking outside the box”.

Professor Brad Love of UCL claimed that the boost enabled people to think about multiple ideas simultaneously - “like Sherlock Holmes.” The researchers do not yet know if the boost is permanent or temporary.

Previous reesearch has found that fast-moving action games such as Halo promote quick decision-making, the researchers say.

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Starcraft is a highly popular strategy game where players have to control armies of space warriors and aliens - and the combination of planning and quick response seems to boost people’s brains.

A test with 72 volunteers at Queen Mary University of London and University College London (UCL) found that playing Starcraft 2 for 40 hours led to people being faster and more accurate in psychological tests.

Another group, who played the placid simulation game The Sims, showed no improvement. The volunteers were non-gamers.

All the participants were female - the study was unable to find a sufficient number of male volunteers who played video games for less than two hours a week.

Dr Brian Glass from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: "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."
Professor Brad Love from UCL, said: "Cognitive flexibility varies across people and at different ages. For example, a fictional character like Sherlock Holmes has the ability to simultaneously engage in multiple aspects of thought and mentally shift in response to changing goals and environmental conditions."
"Creative problem solving and 'thinking outside the box' require cognitive flexibility. Perhaps in contrast to the repetitive nature of work in past centuries, the modern knowledge economy places a premium on cognitive flexibility."
Dr Glass said: "The volunteers who played the most complex version of the video game performed the best in the post-game psychological tests. We need to understand now what exactly about these games is leading to these changes, and whether these cognitive boosts are permanent or if they dwindle over time.”

“Once we have that understanding, it could become possible to develop clinical interventions for symptoms related