Researchers Think Video Games Might Be Able To Increase Brain Function

A California startup is making a video game that may go on to be prescribed for psychological disorders.

According to NPR, neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco is creating video games geared toward improving multitasking and other necessary but often impaired brain functions.

In one of his latest projects, the player must steer a horse through a desert as green carrots, yellow carrots and radishes flash across the screen.

Gazzaley believes executive brain function will be improved as players learn to only select the green carrots.

He told NPR,

If we created this — what we call a high-interference environment, with multitasking going on and lots of distraction ... if we put pressure in that environment, we would see benefits in other aspects of cognitive control.

The games target the three classes of cognitive ability: working memory, attention and goal management.

Gazzaley is confident if one class can be improved by the games, the others will follow. To test his theory, he is seeking to have an older game called Neuroracer approved by the Food and Drug Administration, so one day, video games might be prescribed instead of drugs.

Neuroracer must, therefore, go through the same tests as a new medical device, which could last several years.

Gazzaley said,

Can we go then through a very rigorous validation clinical trial, just like people would expect from a drug, to then show how it works, how it doesn't work, how it could work better — all those things?

He says video games can do a better job at impacting individual brain networks than drugs that only treat symptoms and tend to wear off when the day has passed.

Video game treatment would also allow doctors to observe cognitive improvements in real time as opposed to patients taking pills at home and then reporting the effects months later.

Gazzaley lists post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and Alzheimer's disease as conditions he intends to treat with his games.

If Neuroracer is approved, Gazzaley says he has four more games that could be eventually prescribed as effective treatments -- once approved by the FDA -- as well.

Citations: Will Doctors Soon Be Prescribing Video Games For Mental Health (NPR)