Mind Games: Humans, Dolphins and Computers

Video games have been scapegoats for ADHD, anti-social behavior, teenage violence, and more. Yet Michael Posner claims that certain video games can have remarkably positive effects on children, based on research guided by neural networks and confirmed with humans.

As little as five days of training with Posner's game can improve working memory measurements of children aged 4 to 6, and increase their nonverbal reasoning scores on an IQ test. Other researchers have had similar ideas, going so far as to reverse common wisdom and actually manufacture video games for kids with ADHD!

But games aren't just for kids - an interdisciplinary project at Michigan State University called "Cognitive Games" has developed "personal cognitive trainers" that exercise attention, memory, language, visual/spatial functions, and executive functions in elderly populations. And an in-press study by Stan Kuczaj and Lauren Highfill shows that even dolphins design and play games, with over 317 distinct variants (including simplified versions for younger dolphins!) Games have also been used to enhance the development of artificial intelligence, from rock paper scissors to chess, Go, and, of course, thermonuclear war.

Despite some recent objections to the view that video games, MTV, rock music and other aspects of popular culture serve to corrupt and handicap youth, very little research has been done on the possible positive effects of these stimuli. Indeed, this lack of emphasis on the positive is somewhat pervasive in psychology, with few exceptions.

What is it about games that is so clearly important for development? And what kinds of games are the most effective at developing intelligence?


Blogger Cheeky Scientist said...

You know, Socrates was charged with corrupting the youth because he challenged them to reason for themselves. Is it possible that new, complex games threaten the establishment?

12/19/2005 04:33:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Chatham said...

Great point. I wonder if the Army's recent interest in computer games could be related to a concern about "virtual revolutionaries"

12/19/2005 07:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That Michael Posner... is he holding a young Doc Brown of Back to the Future fame?

12/20/2005 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting semi-related trivia: circus animals look forward to their acts, as though they are games as well. Weird.

By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News — "Circus tigers increase their pacing ahead of performances, according to a new study whose authors believe that such behavior indicates the big cats positively anticipate their time on stage. The authors received cooperation and assistance from Feld Entertainment, Inc., the owners of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Previously, the researchers analyzed other repetitive behavior, such as weaving, in circus elephants and came to a similar conclusion, which suggested the animals perked up before performing. "Elephants actually fight to do their act when they are held back," said Ted Friend, one of the researchers. "If the elephants are kept out of the ring, they will do their act outside." Friend, a professor in the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University, added, "That is what the elephants are accustomed to do. It's like humans going to work every day." He and his colleagues videotaped four tigers before and after performances for five days in 2002 and for four days in 2003. The researchers determined that pacing increased before performances. © 2005 Discovery Communications Inc

12/21/2005 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger Justin Lyon said...

Chris, Militaries around the world are embracing simulation. The UK MoD for example uses a massive simulation for managing their entire training pipeline. It's based on system dynamics with the added feature of discrete flows. You can see a screen shot of one of the early prototypes on the Simudyne web site.

8/06/2006 02:35:00 PM  

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