According to a new study, multitasking can cause the brain to slow down in processing stimuli, such as car horns and traffic lights.
Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) investigated the science of memory and how its processes change with age. The study, titled “Video game training enhances cognitive control in older adults,” was published in the journal Nature on Sept. 5.
Researchers found a way to sustain cognitive skills with a specially designed 3-D video game called NeuroRacer. Dr. Adam Gazzaley, associate professor of neurology, physiology, and psychiatry and director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center at UCSF, developed the game along with a team of UCSF researchers.
“The finding is a powerful example of how plastic the older brain is,” said Gazzaley in a UCSF report. Gazzaley also co-founded Akili Interactive Labs, which is “developing the first therapeutic mobile video games,” according the company’s website.
UCSF researchers performed tests on participants 60 to 85 years old for a total of 12 hours each over 30-day period. The participants showed marked improvement in working memory and sustained attention spans—effects that continued for six months. Their test results even exceeded those of 20-year-olds who had taken the test only once.
In the study, gamers raced a car around a track, looking for certain signs to appear and ignoring others. Participants were asked to press a specific button when certain signs appeared.
“The need to switch rapidly from driving to responding to the signs—i.e. multitasking—generates interference in the brain that undermines performance,” states the UCSF report. “The researchers found that this interference increases dramatically across the adult lifespan.”
Bridge, chess, and other board games apparently cannot compare to NeuroRacer, according to Gazzaley, because the game is designed to become more challenging as the player improves in skill.
The study’s findings—that the adult brain is capable of learning—are congruent with other evidence that has been accumulating for more than a dozen years. “Nevertheless, Gazzaley said the brain’s function often erodes steadily over time in many areas, with some exceptions, like wisdom,” according to the UCSF report.
Photo via Shutterstock