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Digital Games for Physical, Cognitive and Behavioral Health

The Robert Wood John­son Foun­da­tion (RWJF) just announced more than 200px-Dance_Dance_Revolution_Extreme_arcade_machine_left_side_stage$1.85 mil­lion in grants for research teams to study how dig­i­tal games can improve play­ers’ health behav­iors and out­comes (both brain-based and behav­ioral).

The press release: Nine Lead­ing Research Teams Select­ed to Study How Dig­i­tal Games Improve Play­ers’ Health

  • Dig­i­tal games are inter­ac­tive and expe­ri­en­tial, and so they can engage peo­ple in pow­er­ful ways to enhance learn­ing and health behav­ior change, espe­cial­ly when they are designed on the basis of well-researched strate­gies,” said (UC San­ta Barbara’s Dr. Debra) Lieber­man.
  • The pace of growth and inno­va­tion in dig­i­tal games is incred­i­ble, and we see tremen­dous poten­tial to design them to help peo­ple stay healthy or man­age chron­ic con­di­tions like dia­betes or Parkinson’s dis­ease. How­ev­er, we need to know more about what works and what does not — and why,” said Paul Tari­ni, team direc­tor for RWJF’s Pio­neer Port­fo­lio. “Health Games Research is a major invest­ment to build a research base for this dynam­ic young field. Fur­ther, the insights and ideas that flow from this work will help us con­tin­ue to expand our imag­i­na­tion of what is pos­si­ble in this are­na.”

All 9 stud­ies sound inter­est­ing, 3 of them are clos­er to what we track:

  1. Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cis­co (San Fran­cis­co, CA) A Video Game to Enhance Cog­ni­tive Health in Old­er Adults. As peo­ple age, they lose some of their abil­i­ty to sus­tain their atten­tion and to focus their atten­tion on their main task while ignor­ing dis­trac­tions. This study aims to improve these and oth­er relat­ed cog­ni­tive skills by using a dri­ving game in which play­ers prac­tice pay­ing atten­tion to rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion, such as traf­fic signs, and ignor­ing irrel­e­vant infor­ma­tion, such as bill­boards. The study mon­i­tors brain activ­i­ty with elec­troen­cephalo­gram (EEG) record­ings and observes eye posi­tion and game per­for­mance in younger adults (ages 18 to 30) and old­er adults (ages 60 to 80) before and after six weeks of game play. The study assess­es changes in cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty, brain activ­i­ty and trans­fer of game-relat­ed skills to sim­i­lar cog­ni­tive oper­a­tions and activ­i­ties that take place in dai­ly life.
  2. Children’s Hos­pi­tal of Philadel­phia (Philadel­phia, PA) Reward Cir­cuit­ry, Autism and Games that Teach Social Per­cep­tu­al Skills – tests effects of facial per­cep­tion games on the brain activ­i­ty and facial per­cep­tion skills of 8- to 12-year-old chil­dren who have been diag­nosed with an autism spec­trum dis­or­der (ASD). Chil­dren with ASD tend to have dif­fi­cul­ty per­ceiv­ing and inter­pret­ing facial expres­sions and rec­og­niz­ing a person’s iden­ti­ty by observ­ing their face. The games used in the study chal­lenge them to notice sub­tle dif­fer­ences in faces and expres­sions and give them oppor­tu­ni­ties to rehearse these skills and receive feed­back on their per­for­mance. Behav­ioral test­ing and use of func­tion­al Mag­net­ic Res­o­nance Imag­ing (fMRI) of play­ers’ brains before and after play­ing the games for 50 hours over the course of eight weeks will help the researchers deter­mine how the games influ­ence facial per­cep­tion skills and how the brain changes in response to these game expe­ri­ences.
  3. Long Island Uni­ver­si­ty (Brook­lyn, NY) Dance Video Game Train­ing and Falling in Parkinson’s Dis­ease — com­pares the use of a com­mer­cial­ly avail­able dance pad video game, Dance Dance Rev­o­lu­tion, to two tra­di­tion­al treat­ment options that help peo­ple with Parkinson’s Dis­ease reduce their risk of falling by increas­ing their bal­ance, strength, endurance, motor coor­di­na­tion and visu­al-motor inte­gra­tion. The two tra­di­tion­al treat­ments are rhyth­mic step­ping and tread­mill train­ing with music. The researchers assess bal­ance, motor func­tion, reac­tion time and self-con­fi­dence to eval­u­ate the game in com­par­i­son to the two tra­di­tion­al treat­ments. They also use func­tion­al Mag­net­ic Res­o­nance Imag­ing (fMRI) to observe par­tic­i­pants’ brain activ­i­ty.

The press release: Here.

More infor­ma­tion: Health Games Research.

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