To Stay Smart, Play Online Games?

Do online games keep you sharp?

It was previously believed that our learning capacity and mental ability was set at a young age. We weren’t likely to get “smarter” as we aged, although we would gain knowledge from experience. New research is showing that’s not true, and you can improve your memory, cognitive abilities, decision-making prowess, and multi-tasking skills at any age. One fun way to do so is with online games.

Do You Have to Pay for a ‘Brain Training’ Program?
Websites like and would have us believe that only a tailor-made program built for your age and your cognitive ability will actually “train” your brain for better thinking. But a new study shows that even first-person shooter games can improve your spatial recognition and decision-making skills. is just one site that offers free, fun, brain-training games. But you can create your own “training program” by taking a little time each day to play your favorite online games.

Fun Games That Are Good for Your Brain
Bejeweled: This Tetris-like game available for nearly every platform (Web-based, Android, and iOS) puts your spatial recognition and fast decision-making abilities to work.

Hanging with Friends – Improve your vocabulary and reasoning skills with this twist on Hangman. You’ll also use strategy and decision-making as you leverage coins you earn to get benefits (like an extra chance to guess a letter in the word).

Words with Friends – Want to improve your reading comprehension or become a faster reader? Research out of the University of Calgary shows Scrabble players recognize words 20 percent faster than non-players, and this translates to real-world reading, as well. Words with Friends is game developer Zynga’s online version of Scrabble. Start several games with different friends so you always have the opportunity to play a word when the mood strikes.

Fruit Ninja – While it started out as a game for kids to promote healthy eating, this easy-to-play game enhances your focus and reflexes, both important aspects to staying sharp at any age.

Does It Really Work?
A 2010 study published by the journal Nature, which evaluated 11,430 participants of “brain-boosting” games through a six-week online study, claimed to disprove previous evidence that game-playing can improve cognitive ability. The study showed that participants improved in those specific functions (say, object memory), but this did not translate into an overall increase in cognitive function.

Those who still support the hypothesis that “brain games” can make you smarter say the online study was flawed for a number of reasons, and point to a long line of scientific research showing that games do, in fact, boost learning and thinking abilities. A more recent article published in American Scientific Mind cited multiple studies showing that players who engaged in first-person shooter games did better in spatial reasoning, spatial focus, visual acuity and decision-making tests.

As long as games are part of a well-balanced life that includes social interactions and physical fitness, the conclusion is that they can’t hurt, and a growing body of evidence shows they help, improve cognitive function at any age.

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