Any cognitive benefit of video games? Video-game studies have serious flaws

October 4, 2011 at 9:33 am 4 comments

Do video games provide some kind of cognitive benefit after the game play?  There have been arguments that video games lead to improved attention, quicker responses, and visual skills.  A paper in Frontiers in Psychology has reviewed the past literature and found that they are all flawed with some basic bias errors.  This doesn’t mean that video games don’t have cognitive benefits.  But we don’t have any evidence that they do.

Most of the studies compare the cognitive performances of expert gamers with those of non-gamers, and suffer from well-known pitfalls of experimental design. The studies are not blinded: participants know that they have been recruited because they have gaming expertise, which can influence their performance, because they are motivated to do well and prove themselves. And the researchers know which participants are in which group, so they can have preconceptions that might inadvertently affect participants’ performance.

via Video-game studies have serious flaws : Nature News.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. edtechdev  |  October 4, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    I agree the evidence for video games in education is very mixed – it is primarily stronger for low level skills/dexterity/acuity such as required for surgery.

    But this meta-analysis is a bit flawed and misguided. The authors seem biased and have an agenda – they published a study on videogames that failed to find effects in 2008. Now they got a meta-analysis published to support their belief that no videogames are effective.

    Meta-analyses (in educational research) can be useful, but they have to be taken with a huge grain of salt, and are often cheap publications to get citations and push an agenda.

    Their recommendations go the wrong way – they recommend more medical-like blind experimental studies. They are unaware of design-based research, for example, or the limitations of lab-based studies of students who have no motivation to learn and a very limited time to do so.

    There are logical flaws – videogames don’t improve perception and cognition – compared to what alternatives? and for what instructional purposes? What is the alternative? A lecture, a textbook instead?

    They didn’t analyze the games used in the studies, instead lumping them all together as if they were the same.

    They want to treat students like rats in medical studies, but it just doesn’t work – it doesn’t work very often for people in medical research, either. Medical researchers are finally acknowledging the complexities of the placebo effect: http://www.wired.com/medtech/drugs/magazine/17-09/ff_placebo_effect?currentPage=all

    Reply
    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  October 5, 2011 at 9:39 am

      Doug, I agree people can’t be treated like rats, but from what I’m reading, the video game studies aren’t treating people like people. If you take a video game expert and a novice, they each know their category. Years of bias studies tell us that participants’ perceptions matter.

      I like your DBR suggestion. It would be interesting to do a longer-term, developmental study, where we watch people develop expertise and what people not developing expertise, and watch what transferable skills are gained.

      Reply
      • 3. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  October 5, 2011 at 11:35 am

        There is also the problem of selection bias—perhaps those with better visual skills become expert gamers, rather than that the games develop the skills. If you don’t initially assign people randomly to the groups, then it is almost impossible to measure educational effects.

        Reply
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