The game improves cognitive functioning in older players because it requires multitasking and extensive use of brain-based skills.
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Researchers from North Carolina State University's Gains Through Gaming laboratory have found that playing the massive multiplayer online video game World of Warcraft (WoW) appeared to boost cognitive functioning in older adults. The researchers hypothesized that playing a cognitively complex game such as WoW, which requires multitasking and extensive use of a number of cognitive skills such as map reading, planning, and tracking of multiple status indicators, could boost the cognitive performance of the elderly.
The study, which is available online as a corrected proof at the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, initially examined the spatial ability, memory, and focus of adults aged 60 to 77, to set a baseline. An intervention group of 20 adults then played WoW for roughly 14 hours over the course of two weeks, while a control group of 19 adults played no WoW over the two weeks. At the end of the two weeks both groups were re-tested for cognitive functioning. Ultimately the researchers observed a greater cognitive improvement in the intervention group when compared with the controls.
According to the press release:
Among participants who scored well on baseline cognitive functioning tests, there was no significant improvement after playing WoW -- they were already doing great, McLaughlin says [Dr. Anne McLaughlin, an investigator involved in the study]. But we saw significant improvement in both spatial ability and focus for participants who scored low on the initial baseline tests. Pre- and post-game testing showed no change for participants on memory.
It is certainly an interesting finding, but hopefully not one that will have psychology students downing books for joypads. On the upside, it looks like World of Warcraft just creeped to the top of our "Things to do when we retire" list.
This post also appears on medGadget, an Atlantic partner site.