Sunday, October 26, 2014

The power of play - Portal2 better than brain training software?

My son, who does what I consider to be magic with his coding of internet commercial websites (see has been playing computer games since the first Apple II appeared in my basement office in 1978, and he learned touch typing with the original Mavis Beacon teaches typing program. He is able to look at some extraordinarily difficult coding issue... and poof!, the solution seems to spontaneously materialize in his head. He just sent me this article pointing to one possible underpinning of his abilities, an article on the power of play, a comparison of the Portal 2 game and the Lumosity brain training games (see also my recent post on a critique of brain game claims, and a recent NY Times piece "Can Video Games Fend Off Mental Decline?"):
• We tested subjects randomly assigned to play Portal 2 or Lumosity for 8 h.
• All were pre/post tested on problem solving, spatial skills, and persistence.
• Portal 2 players scored higher than Lumosity on all three constructs.
• Portal 2 players also showed significant gains on spatial tests.
• Lumosity subjects showed no gains on any measure.
In this study, we tested 77 undergraduates who were randomly assigned to play either a popular video game (Portal 2) or a popular brain training game (Lumosity) for 8 h. Before and after gameplay, participants completed a set of online tests related to problem solving, spatial skill, and persistence. Results revealed that participants who were assigned to play Portal 2 showed a statistically significant advantage over Lumosity on each of the three composite measures—problem solving, spatial skill, and persistence. Portal 2 players also showed significant increases from pretest to posttest on specific small- and large-scale spatial tests while those in the Lumosity condition did not show any pretest to posttest differences on any measure. Results are discussed in terms of the positive impact video games can have on cognitive and noncognitive skills.

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