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Want to think better on your feet? Play puzzle games

A study by Nanyang Technological University showed that playing puzzle games such as Cut the Rope would improve adults' executive functions and ability to make decisions.

SINGAPORE: Playing games such as Cut the Rope may be considered by some as a waste of time, but a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) study released on Tuesday (June 24) said such puzzle games improve adults' executive functions.

In a statement, NTU said adults who play the physics-based puzzle game regularly, for as little as an hour a day, had improved executive functions. These functions in one's brain are important for making decisions in everyday life when having to deal with sudden changes in the environment, it added.

The study was conducted by Asst Prof Michael D. Patterson and his PhD student, Mr Adam Oei. They tested four different mobile games - a first-person shooter (Modern Combat); arcade (Fruit Ninja); real-time strategy (StarFront Collision); and a complex puzzle (Cut the Rope) - as previous research had shown that different games trained different skills.

About 52 NTU undergraduates who were non-gamers were selected to play an hour a day, five days a week on their iPhone or iPod Touch devices. This exercise lasted for four weeks, or a total of 20 hours, the statement said.

Following this exercise, the study showed players of Cut the Rope could switch between tasks 33 per cent faster, were 30 per cent faster in adapting to new situations, and 60 per cent better in blocking out distractions and focusing on the tasks at hand than before training.

The statement added the three tests to measure one's executive functions were done a week after the undergraduates had finished playing their assigned game. This was to ensure the findings were not temporary gains due to motivation or arousal effects, it said.

"This finding is important because previously, no video games have demonstrated this type of broad improvement to executive functions, which are important for general intelligence, dealing with new situations and managing multitasking," said Asst Prof Patterson.

"This indicates that while some games may help to improve mental abilities, not all games give you the same effect. To improve the specific ability you are looking for, you need to play the right game," Mr Oei added.

Asst Prof Patterson also said the result could have implications in many areas such as educational, occupational and rehabilitative settings.

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