Can Online Games Played On Your PC Improve Your Brain?

[ Photo by Gerd Altmann / License ]

We’ve all heard about how the internet is reducing our attention spans, and read news stories about how prolonged gaming sessions can cause health issues, but are there games that can help improve our brains? Below, we look at some online games you can play via your PC’s browser that could actually boost your brainpower.

Brain training games online

Perhaps the most obvious way to begin is with brain training games. If you’re in between tasks and want to sharpen your brain while glued to your PC, you could be tempted to try these ‘quick fix’ solutions. These games claim to increase your mental capacity after playing them.

One example of such a game is Luminosity, a Flash-based online platform, where you can put your mental guile to the test. Games you can play on the brain-training platform include speed, memory and problem-solving games. The more you play, the better you will get at playing the games and gaining better scores. But does that mean your brain is growing in areas that will help you in real life?

Daniel Simons, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois expressed his doubt of cognitive improvement claims in 2016. Simons found that although brain-training games could help with specific tasks relating to the games they had played, “Very few of these studies measure real-world outcomes at all”.

And, while Luminosity have their own research team of scientists called the Human Cognition Project, the company was fined by the US Federal Trade Commission in 2016 for exaggerating the proven benefits of the online training through their advertising.

Although this feedback isn’t wholly positive, Psychology Today doesn’t rule out playing games to combat cognitive decay for seniors or those who have recently experienced a stroke. The benefits for these specific groups are yet to be proven.

Number and word games

Many people have a fondness for picking up a newspaper and doing a crossword, or more recently a Sudoku puzzle. If, however, you’d like these puzzles at your fingertips any time of day, you can also play them online. King’s College London and Exeter University found during a recent study that solving crosswords and Sudoku increased the brain’s sharpness. “It improves sharpness across a range of tasks assessing memory, attention and reasoning” in seniors, said Dr. Anne Corbett who led the research team. The study claimed that those engaging with the games each day knocked eight years off their brain’s mental age.

However, cognitive neuroscientist Sandra Bond Chapman suggests that these word and numbers games don’t greatly increase our decision-making or judgment capacities, but concentrate on rote learning, and therefore are not as effective in our daily lives as innovative thinking, for example.

Blackjack games

Blackjack and poker have been mentioned by Health Status as online casino games that utilise different parts of the brain and that can improve short term memory. Blackjack has been written about a lot throughout its history, and for almost half a century, mathematicians and analysts have favoured the game’s strategic possibilities. Mark Aarøe Nissen studied math at Aarhus University in Denmark and says that his favourite way to engage his memory is counting cards in Blackjack. “It’s not that hard.” he told Psychology Today. Aarøe Nissen is a memory expert and although he claims to have mastered blackjack, he says it’s no mean feat and that it would take many hours of memory practice.

Psychology website Psychreg suggests that the continuous calculations of probability exercised in blackjack can be transferred into our daily lives. These constant calculations of ever-changing possibilities found in the game can improve brainpower. Applying this probability technique to daily life can also relieve stress because you can already assess the odds of something happening.

Photo by PokerNews


Language training

Perhaps you’ve always wanted to learn a language, but lacked the confidence or didn’t know where to start. Well, there are a number of online games and apps which can help introduce you to a language from the comfort of your home. Many studies have indicated that learning a language can improve your brain’s cognitive processes, and even delay dementia. A hugely popular online language platform is Duolingo. This site guides you through a language with spoken (voice recognition), listening and comprehension tasks to get you up to speed.

Neuroscientist doctor Dr. Thomas Bak was quoted on the BBC website expressing why learning a language is better than Sudoku for example. “Sudoku is like going to the gym and using one machine to repeat one movement. Learning a language, on the other hand, is like using 20 different machines, which require lots of different movements,” he said.

What do we think? 

Although brain training apps utilise the brain in a straightforward manner, they are a little rigid, and therefore only improve areas of the brain related to very similar cognitive tasks. However, blackjack appears to improve short-term memory and assesses probabilities, which can help our daily lives. Language training has also seen overwhelmingly‌ ‌positive reports for cognitive benefits and has added advantages for travel and careers in international countries.

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