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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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