What if, in addition to being a fun way to enjoy our free time, video games could offer real benefits to our cognitive powers? That’s the promise of a new music rhythm game that can not only teach drumming but also improve short-term memory.
In a study of the effects of the game, 47 adults between the ages of 60 and 79 were split into two groups: one played the music rhythm game (called Rhythmicity) and the other played a regular word search game for 20 minutes a day. day, 5 days a week for 8 weeks.
The difference between the two groups was clear: as players progressed in Rhythmicity, the ways in which they targeted visual perception and selective attention had a positive effect on short-term memory, as tested through a face recognition exercise.
“As hypothesized, only the rhythm training group showed improved short-term memory in a face recognition task, thus providing significant evidence that musical rhythm training can benefit performance in a non-musical task,” the researchers write in their published paper.
Rhythmicity was developed with drummer Mickey Hart, once of the Grateful Dead, and used visual cues to train participants to play a rhythm on a tablet. The pace, complexity and precision required were all modified as players progressed.
Part of what makes the game special is that it can be tailored to the person playing it, changing the difficulty level to push the player to improve without making it so hard that it spoils the game experience.
Post-training analysis was performed via electroencephalography (EEG) during a recognition task involving unfamiliar faces. Rhythmicity players were better at recognizing faces after the eight-week course, and EEG readings showed increased activity in the superior parietal lobe – the area of the brain associated with sight-reading music and short-term visual memory.
“Memory that improved at all was surprising,” says neuroscientist Theodore Zanto of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
“There’s a very strong memory training component to it, and it generalizes to other forms of memory.”
The researchers behind the study have been busy in this area since 2013, when they developed a game called NeuroRacer – a game that has been shown to significantly improve impaired cognitive abilities and improve sustained attention and working memory in adults older after just four weeks.
Next came a game called the Body-Brain Trainer, which a recent study found can improve blood pressure, balance and attention in the elderly. In that case, the heart rate data was constantly fed back to the software so that the game could be adapted to the fitness levels of the participants.
Another game, the virtual reality Maze that engages users in spatial wayfinding, has been shown to improve long-term memory in older adults after four weeks of training.
Declining cognitive control often comes with aging, but these games are proof that there are ways to maintain our mental sharpness.
“These games all have the same adaptive algorithms and the same approach, but they use very, very different types of activity. And in all of them we show that you can improve cognitive abilities in this population,” says neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley of UCSF .
The research has been published in PNAS.