Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health
Cognitive Function in Older Adults Gets Boost from World of Warcraft Video Game
People who needed it most – those performing worst on initial testing – saw the most improvement
Feb. 22, 2012 - For some older adults, the online video game World of Warcraft (WoW) may provide more than just an
opportunity for escapist adventure. Researchers from North Carolina State University have found that playing WoW actually boosted cognitive
functioning for older adults – particularly those adults who had scored poorly on cognitive ability tests before playing the game.
“We chose World of Warcraft because it has attributes we felt may produce benefits – it is a cognitively challenging game
in a socially interactive environment that presents users with novel situations,” says Dr. Anne McLaughlin, an assistant professor of
psychology at NC State and co-author of
a paper on the study.
“We found there were improvements, but it depended on each participant’s baseline cognitive functioning level.”
Researchers from NC State’s
Gains Through Gaming laboratory first tested the cognitive functioning of study
participants, aged 60 to 77, to set a baseline. The researchers looked at cognitive abilities including spatial ability, memory and how well
participants could focus their attention.
An “experimental” group of study participants then played WoW on their home computers for approximately 14 hours over the
course of two weeks, before being re-tested. A “control” group of study participants did not play WoW, but were also re-tested after two
Comparing the cognitive functioning test scores of participants in the experimental and control groups, the researchers
found the group that played WoW saw a much greater increase in cognitive functioning, though the effect varied according to each participant’s
“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.
“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.
“The people who needed it most – those who performed the worst on the initial testing – saw the most improvement,” says
Dr. Jason Allaire, an associate professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the study.
The paper, “Individual differences in response to cognitive training: Using a multi-modal, attentionally demanding
game-based intervention for older adults,” is published online in Computers in Human
Behavior. Lead author of the paper is Laura Whitlock, an NC State Ph.D. student. The research was supported by NC State’s College
of Humanities and Social Sciences.