Can Video Games Unlock Limitless Cognitive Capabilities?

by Brian Caulfield

In the new CBS television series “Limitless,” the main character — Brian Finch — can unlock super-intelligence by popping a pill.

In the real world, alas, no such thing exists. But it’s starting to look like video games can enhance cognitive functions in profound ways.

The “Limitless” franchise has taken the once-far out notion of cognitive enhancement into the mainstream.

In a just-published survey of the research on cognitive enhancement and video games, two researchers — Shawn Green, of University of Wisconsin, and Aaron R. Seitz, at University of California, Riverside — found playing video games enhances basic perceptual tasks, such as visual acuity, peripheral vision and temporal processing.

“Better performance on some of these tasks is predictive of real-world consequences, such as fewer driving accidents in elderly populations,” the authors wrote.  

Action games, the authors found, have the most benefits.

Those that have complex 3D settings, that feature quickly moving targets that pop in and out of view, that necessitate substantial visual processing of the periphery, that include large amounts of clutter and task-irrelevant objects, that require the player to consistently switch between highly focused and highly distributed attention, and that require the player to make rapid, but accurate decisions,” the authors write.

Of course, if action games did cause huge leaps in intelligence, you’d expect to find a company run by video-game addicts building impossibly sophisticated visual computing technology. And then putting it into everything from cars to supercomputers. Oh, wait.