Scientific research indicates that playing videogames can improve cognitive performance on tasks other than those specific to the game. While comparing gamers and non-gamers though, a few things have to be kept in mind. It might be that gamers are good in games, not because of experience, but because of previous abilities. Because they possess these abilities, which make them good at gaming, they started gaming. Another aspect to remember while comparing gamers and non-gamers is that gamers might perform better on the tasks because of the differential expectations for experts. Because they are brought into the experiment because of their expertise in gaming, they might try harder and perform better.
To really examine if gaming causes cognitive improvements, an experimental design should be created, a training experiment. So far, no training experiment has been set up in the right way. All previous studies have possible placebo effects across training conditions and outcome measures.
Because of random allocation of participants to treatment and control groups, they allow causal interferences. The training effect can only be true if the participants don’t know if they are in the experimental or the control group. Good placebo control is not easy however. Because the participants in the videogame training studies know which training intervention they have received.
Another big problem arises when the treatment and the control group produce different placebo effects. If the two groups receive training in two different games, you would assume that they improve on the game they were trained in. However, the perception of what each of the games should improve, might drive the group differences, which is also a placebo effect. So far, no study has explicitly measured the differences in the perceived relatedness of the training to the outcome.
Videogame training might just reflect shifts in strategy instead of changes in cognitive capabilities. Scientific research has confirmed this.
In most studies the control group does not do the task again after the training. But usually when people perform the same task twice, they perform better the second time, even without training. For this reason, a difference between the experimental group and the control group should be considered a lack of improvement from the control group, instead of an exceptional improvement from the experimental group. To actually make strong conclusions about videogame training, an inadequate baseline.
Future research should pay attention to the following items. First of all, recruiting should be covert. The videogame players should not suspect that they are there because they are good at gaming. Secondly, researchers should ask if the participants are familiar with research on the benefits of gaming, so they can verify if that knowledge influences their performance. Thirdly, experimental groups and control groups should be equally likely to expect improvements for each outcome measure. Finally, all method details, including the recruiting strategies and the outcome measures included in the study should be fully reported.
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