MONDAY, June 13 (HealthDay News) -- Playing a memory-straining
video game can help children solve problems more easily, a goal
that can be difficult to achieve through so-called cognitive
training, a new study suggests.
The research doesn't suggest that ordinary video games have this
kind of power. But it does show how a particular type of training
can boost brain skills even months later, said study author Susanne
M. Jaeggi, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan.
"You have to train, and you have to train well," Jaeggi said. "Effects don't come for free. There is effort involved, just like in physical training when you need to run and not just walk in order to improve your fitness level."
The researchers looked specifically at attention and what's
called "working memory" in children. Jaeggi said that refers to
temporary storage in the brain that's used for such things as
solving math problems. For example, if you're solving a
multiplication problem like 34 times 7, you need to go through
several steps -- 7 times 4, then 7 times 3 -- and briefly remember
the answers, she explained.
"If information is lost during this process due to working memory limitations, then the task cannot be completed," Jaeggi said. "In general, working memory capacity is crucial for our general ability to acquire knowledge and learn new skills, and it has been shown that working memory is even better at predicting scholastic achievement than measures of intelligence."
In their study, Jaeggi and her fellow researchers tried to
stretch the working memory of 62 elementary and middle school
students by having them play a video game in which they had to
remember the previous locations of frogs on lily pads. The game
became harder as children became better at it, but easier if they
Those who improved the most did the best on tests three months
later, even though tests given before the training did not show
that those students had any advantage over the other children,
according to the study, published online in this week's issue of
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Jaeggi said it's possible, but not proven, that the brain
training via the video game could help students later in life
because those who score well on tests tend to do well in school and
on the job later in life.
She added that the tests show that the students "improved one
very important part of IQ with our training."
Brain researcher Dr. Torkel Klingberg, a professor of cognitive
neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, said that other
studies of techniques designed to boost working memory have shown
similar effects, and even bigger ones.
And Adrian M. Owen, a cognitive neuroscience researcher who
holds the Canada Excellence Research Chair at the University of
Western Ontario, said that his previous research had debunked
claims that commercial "brain training" systems improve cognitive
powers in adults. But, he said, the new study is different: It
looked at children, not adults, and examined intensive training in
So if one specially designed a video game can help boost the
brain power of some children, might all video games do the
No such luck, Jaeggi said. Strategy games might help boost
intelligence, she said, but shoot-'em-up games don't seem to do
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