Playing a Video Game and Learning to Think: What’s the Connection?

Ashleigh Wells, Richard E. Mayer, Jan L. Plass, Bruce D. Homer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study examines whether playing a video game can help improve cognitive skills needed for successful performance on cognitive tasks, such as updating, which involves continuous monitoring of incoming information that results in rapid addition or deletion of information in working memory. For example, in the n-back task, the participant sees a series of rapidly presented letters on a screen and must press a key each time the current letter is the same as one presented n trials previously (e.g., 3 trials back). Young adults were randomly assigned to play CrushStations (a desktop game the authors designed to teach updating skill) or Bookworm (a commercially available word search game used as a control) for 4 30-min sessions spread over 9 days. Consistent with specific transfer theory, CrushStations players improved on performing the target skill in the game context across the four sessions (the highest level achieved). Consistent with specific transfer of general skill theory, CrushStations players outscored Bookworm players on a posttest involving accurately performing the target skill in a non-game context (n-back task). In contrast to general transfer theory, CrushStations players did not differ from Bookworm players on posttests measuring skills not directly targeted in the game (visuospatial memory task). These results show the benefits of designing educational games in line with the cognitive theory of game-based training (Parong et al., 2020).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-467
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Cognitive Enhancement
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Cognitive skill
  • Cognitive training
  • Executive function
  • Game-based training
  • Transfer
  • Video games

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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