Puzzle games can help improve your mental flexibility: Study

ANI| Last Updated: Jun 25, 2014, 22:36 PM IST

Washington:  Researchers have shown that adults who played the physics-based puzzle video game 'Cut the Rope' regularly, for as little as an hour a day, had improved executive functions.

The executive functions in your brain are important for making decisions in everyday life when you have to deal with sudden changes in your environment - better known as thinking on your feet.

The video game study by Assistant Professor Michael D. Patterson and his PhD student Mr Adam Oei, tested four different games for the mobile platform, as their previous research had shown that different games trained different skills.

The games varied in their genres, which included a first person shooter (Modern Combat); arcade (Fruit Ninja); real-time strategy (StarFront Collision); and a complex puzzle (Cut the Rope).

NTU undergraduates, who were non-gamers, were then selected to play an hour a day, 5 days a week on their iPhone or iPod Touch. This video game training lasted for 4 weeks, a total of 20 hours.

Prof Patterson said students who played Cut the Rope, showed significant improvement on executive function tasks while no significant improvements were observed in those playing the other three games.

The abilities tested in this study included how fast the players can switch tasks (an indicator of mental flexibility); how fast can the players adapt to a new situation instead of relying on the same strategy (the ability to inhibit prepotent or predominant responses); and how well they can focus on information while blocking out distractors or inappropriate responses (also known as the Flanker task in cognitive psychology).

Prof Patterson said the reason 'Cut the Rope' improved executive function in their players was probably due to the game's unique puzzle design. Strategies which worked for earlier levels would not work in later levels, and regularly forced the players to think creatively and try alternate solutions.

After 20 hours of game play, players of Cut the Rope could switch between tasks 33 per cent faster, were 30 per cent faster in adapting to new situations, and 60 per cent better in blocking out distractions and focusing on the tasks at hand than before training.

The study is set to be published in the academic journal, Computers in Human Behavior.