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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.

Relat­ed arti­cles:

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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