World of Warcraft can help improve cognitive functions in some older adults, according to research conducted by North Carolina State University. Researchers from the University’s Gains Through Gaming laboratory first tested the cognitive functions of study participants ages 60 – 77, to set a baseline. They cataloged data on the subjects' cognitive abilities such as spatial ability, memory and attention focus.
From there, part of that group played World of Warcraft at home for approximately 14 hours for two weeks, while another set of participants served as a control group. Comparing both groups after re-testing, researchers found that the WoW players exhibited a much greater increase in cognitive functioning. The effects did vary according to each participant’s baseline score.
"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," said 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."
"The people who needed it most – those who performed the worst on the initial testing – saw the most improvement," added Dr. Jason Allaire, an associate professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of the study.
McLaughlin added that those participants who scored well on the baseline test showed no significant improvement after playing the game. Those who did not do so well in baseline tests saw improvement in both spatial ability and focus. The one caveat she noted is that there didn't seem to be any improvement in memory.
The research paper, "Individual differences in response to cognitive training: Using a multi-modal, attentionally demanding game-based intervention for older adults," was published online in Computers in Human Behavior. The 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.