Ok, I'll admit it: it's physically hard for me to write this post. I have a friend whose husband sits in front of a computer screen every evening, slaying various mythical goblins. And even as I stare the results of this study in the face, I can't quite shake this proscribed image of Tolkienesque geekiness. I feel for her. I would rather be a hockey widow any day of the week.
But it seems I stand corrected. For many grownups the online video game World of Warcraft (WoW) can actually boost cognitive functioning.
"We chose World of Warcraft because it has attributes we felt may produce benefits - it is a cognitively challenging game in a socially interactive environment that presents users with novel situations," says co-author of the study, Dr. Anne McLaughlin, an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University. "We found there were improvements, but it depended on each participant's baseline cognitive functioning level."
Just so we're clear, we're not talking about my friend's husband or even your husband. The study's participants, aged between 60 and 77, were tested on cognitive abilities such as spatial ability, memory and attention for approximately 14 hours over two weeks.
"Among participants who scored well on baseline cognitive functioning tests, there was no significant improvement after playing WoW—they were already doing great," McLaughlin says. "But we saw significant improvement in both spatial ability and focus for participants who scored low on the initial baseline tests."
None of the participants showed marked improvements in memory.
So as if it isn't shocking enough to see your parents curl up with an iPhone, expect to see them embracing the wacky world of online warfare. Worse still, this is something you should encourage, as it may well help them ward off dementia.
Excuse me while I swallow my pride and preconceptions with a little sugar on top.