Gamification of Cognitive Assessment and Training

The JMIR Serious Games journal has recently published an article in which researchers reviewed 33 studies reporting results of the use of gamification and serious games for cognitive assessment or training.

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The review identified 7 reasons that led researchers to apply gamification in the reviewed studies:

  • to increase participant motivation;
  • to increase usability or intuitiveness for the target age group;
  • to increase long-term engagement;
  • to investigate the effects of game-like tasks;
  • to increase ecological validity;
  • to increase suitability for the target disorder.

The studies applied gamification for cognitive assessment or training in a variety of domains, with the most common being working memory, general executive function, attention, and inhibition. Several games aimed at testing or training people with ADHD.

The review presented generally positive results. Overall the gamified tasks were able to successfully increase motivation while still maintaining a scientifically valid task. However, unforeseen effects on task performance were observed in some cases. This fact highlights the need to be cautious when applying gamification for cognitive assessment and training and points out the need for further research to better understand the potential effects of gamification.

The results showed that gamified assessment can be employed with the same validity than non-game-like assessment methods if well designed and properly validated. However, there was no evidence of improved data quality when using gamified assessment methods. The review also revealed evidence that gamification may be effective in enhancing cognitive training. Nevertheless, the authors pointed numerous methodological problems in the reviewed studies and argued for further investigation before the results can be considered definitive.

The authors end the review suggesting that gamification can play an important role in collecting high-quality scientific data in the future but argue for further research and more rigorous validation to understand the interplay between game mechanics and cognitive processes.

The study reviewed only peer-reviewed literature. Therefore, some cognitive training games available on the application stores but not supported by peer-reviewed research were deliberated excluded from the analysis.

Original publication: Lumsden J, Edwards EA, Lawrence NS, Coyle D, Munafò MR. Gamification of Cognitive Assessment and Cognitive Training: A Systematic Review of Applications and Efficacy. JMIR Serious Games 2016;4(2):e11.


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About Gustavo Tondello

Gustavo is a Gamification Consultant and Ph.D. Student in Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, Canada. He is ranked one of the top Gamification leaders in the world by Rise's Gamification Gurus Power 100 leaderboard. His main interests include gamification, and games for health and learning. His research focuses on the design of gameful applications. Before coming to Canada, he worked for several years as a Software Engineer in Brazil. Gustavo is also a researcher of Logosophy, and he is affiliated to the Logosophical Foundation of Brazil and of the USA.

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