Improving high school students' executive functions through digital game play

Bruce D. Homer, Jan L. Plass, Charles Raffaele, Teresa M. Ober, Alisha Ali

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Executive functions (EF), the skills required to plan, monitor and control cognitive processes, are linked to many important educational and developmental outcomes. The Alien Game is a digital game developed to train the EF subskill of shifting. High school students (N = 82; age range 14–18 years; average = 15.5 years) were asked to play the Alien Game for 20 min per week for 6 consecutive weeks. Two EF measures were administered before and after this intervention: the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS) task (a measure of shifting) and the Flanker task (a measure of inhibition). Students had a significant pre- to posttest increase in DCCS, t (81) = 4.29, p < 0.001, d = 0.54, and Flanker, t (77) = 2.93, p = 0.004, d = 0.22. Controlling for pretest score, gains in shifting were significantly predicted by a measure of game performance in the Alien Game. These findings provide evidence that the Alien Game is having the intended effect of improving EF, and argue that video games can be effective tools for training cognitive skills when they are explicitly designed for this purpose and when a rigorous design approach is used.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)50-58
Number of pages9
JournalComputers and Education
StatePublished - Feb 2018


  • Cognitive ability
  • Cognitive training
  • Digital games
  • Executive functions
  • Video games

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science
  • Education


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