The Cognitive Benefits of Playing Video Games

The Cognitive Benefits of Playing Video Games


Research shows that playing video games can be good for you. In the following article you will see:

  • The cognitive benefits associated with playing video games.
  • The long-term implications of these benefits.
  • What research says about the effectiveness of “brain-training games”.
  • How you can take advantage of video games to intentionally improve your cognitive performance.


The cognitive benefits of playing

Playing video games can improve your cognitive performance in a wide range of areas:

Overall, this list showcases some of the benefits associated with playing video games. However, it’s important to remember that different types of games offer different benefits. Therefore, each game will help you improve in some areas, which are related to the tasks that you perform in the game, but no single game will help you improve all aspects of your cognitive performance.


Other benefits of playing

In addition to improving your cognitive performance, playing video games offers additional benefits:


Short-term vs. long-term effects

Research shows that some of the benefits of playing video games can last long after you’ve finished played. One study, for example, showed that letting kids play a cognitive-training game consistently for a month, led to cognitive improvements which were still significant when the kids were tested 3 months after they stopped playing. Furthermore, neurological studies show that playing video games can lead to long-term positive changes in terms of how the brain processes information, and in terms of factors such as neural plasticity.

Overall, the longer you ‘train’ by playing games, the longer the benefits will usually last. However, the relationship between the time spent playing and and the degree of cognitive improvement is complex, so it’s difficult to predict exactly how long the benefits will last in different scenarios.


Brain-training games

There are some commercial games which purport to specifically improve cognitive performance (often referred to as “brain-training games”). The effectiveness of these games is under debate in the scientific community, with some studies showing that they can lead to an improvement in cognitive performance, and with other studies showing that these games do not lead to a significant improvement, especially in comparison with regular video games.

Overall, the evidence regarding the effectiveness of these games suggests that brain-training games help you improve primarily at cognitive tasks that are closely related to the tasks in the game, and less so with other tasks. The biggest issue with this is that brain-training companies often overhype their products, and make false claims regarding how effective their games are.

Based on this, it seems that brain-training games can work in some aspects, to some degree, for some people. Therefore, if you enjoy playing these games, and feel like they are helping you improve in related tasks (beyond those in the game itself), then by all means, keep playing them. Just be wary, and keep your expectations realistic.


Using video games to improve your cognitive performance

As we saw so far, playing video games can help you improve various aspects of your cognitive performance. You will generally get these benefits whether you’re actively trying to or not, so if you want to just keep playing and reaping the rewards, that’s perfectly fine; one of the greatest advantages of video games is that they allow you to improve passively, while having fun.

However, if you want to actively try and get the most out of playing, then you need to keep in mind the 80/20 rule, meaning that in general, you should expect 80% of the benefits from playing video games to come from 20% of the play time. Therefore, if you’re playing with the goal of improving your cognitive performance, you should invest your time wisely, and remember that playing past a certain point will get you diminishing returns on your efforts. To circumvent this, you can diversify the type of games that you play, which will also help you improve different cognitive abilities.


Testing whether games help you improve

If you want to test whether video games are actually improving your abilities, you can try to do this by assessing your performance on tasks which require similar skills to those in the game. For example, lets say you want to measure whether playing a new action game will improve your reaction time. Before you start playing for the first time, take a few online tests of reaction time, and record your performance on each of them. Then, after playing the game for some time, retake these tests, and compare your performance now to what you got when you took the baseline measurements.

Try to keep the testing conditions as similar as possible between the trials, in terms of the device you take them on, the time of the day, etc. This will make your experiment more reliable, by allowing you to control for some variables which might affect the results.

However, keep in mind that it’s difficult to know for sure whether you’ve improved, since there are other factors which might also affect the results, such as the fact that you’ve already taken these tests before. In addition, if you play video games regularly, it’s possible that gaming already improved your cognitive abilities, and that playing new games is mostly keeping you at a high-but-consistent level of performance.

Overall, self-experimentation can be an interesting way to measure whether playing video games is helping you improve your cognitive abilities. Just keep in mind that this form of experimentation has some limitations, so the results might not always be clear-cut.


Summary and conclusions

  • Research shows that playing video games improves various cognitive abilities, such as reaction time, mental flexibility, spatial memory, attentional capacity, and visual processing.
  • In addition, playing video games has emotional and social benefits, such as reducing stress levels, increasing self esteem, and encouraging cooperative behavior.
  • The benefits of playing video games can often continue to last in the long-term, even after you’ve stopped playing the game.
  • Brain-training games, which are designed specifically for to improve cognitive performance, appear to be beneficial in some cases. However, they are often overhyped by the companies that offer them, and their benefits are sometimes no greater than those associated with playing regular video games.
  • One of the greatest advantages of playing video games is that they allow you to improve passively, while having fun. If you want to actively try and get the most from playing, try to diversify the types of games that you play, and remember that past a certain point of playing you will get diminishing returns from your efforts.


The ‘Appeal to Nature’ Fallacy: Why Natural Isn’t Always Better

The ‘Appeal to Nature’ Fallacy


An appeal to nature is an argument that claims that something is either good because it is considered ‘natural’, or bad because it is considered ‘unnatural’. This fallacy frequently plays a role in debates on various topics, so it is important to understand it. The following article will explain how it works, highlight the flaws in this type of reasoning, and show you how to counter this type of argument.


Understanding appeal to nature arguments

This type of argument can be used to demonstrate support for something, by arguing that:

X is natural (and natural is good), so therefore X is good.

For example:

Herbal medicine is natural, so it is good for you.

Conversely, it can also be used to argue against something, by stating that:

Y is unnatural (and unnatural is bad), so therefore Y is bad.

For example:

Antibiotics are unnatural, so they are bad for you.

As you can see, there are some gaping holes in this type of reasoning. This is because the appeal to nature is an informal logical fallacy, which means that the content of the argument fails to support its proposed conclusion. In the next section, we will see why that is, and explain how to focus on the flaws in its reasoning when countering this type of argument.


Countering appeals to nature

There are two main issues that you can focus on when countering appeal to nature arguments. These are (1) the difficulty of defining what ‘natural’ means, and (2) the fact that ‘natural’ isn’t always good. You should generally pick one flaw and focus on that. If necessary, you can expand later on, and also attack the other flaw in the opponent’s argument.


‘Natural’ is hard to define

There is no clear way to classify something as ‘natural’, and people are often incorrect about believing that something is natural, even by their own standards. For example, people often use generic terms like “chemicals” to denote that something is unnatural (and therefore bad). However, this distinction is meaningless, since it is difficult to define what “chemical” means exactly, and most people who use this term won’t be able to do so if you ask them. Furthermore, there are plenty of “chemicals” which are naturally occurring, such as ammonia, and which these people often won’t perceive as ‘natural’ under their own definition.

Therefore, one way in which you can counter these arguments, is by asking your opponent to explain what they mean by ‘natural’. Then, you can give examples for things that will be classified as natural under their definition, but which contradict the point that they are trying to make about something being natural.

Another thing you can do is point out the fact that some things which people assume are unnatural are actually more natural than they think. Antibiotics, for example, were first derived from molds, and today plants still serve as a source for many antimicrobial drugs.

Finally, you can also point out the fact that the definition of what is ‘natural’ also changes over time. This is especially helpful when the argument revolves around social conventions, such as the acceptability of same-sex marriage. You can do this by juxtaposing your opponent’s current beliefs against older societal beliefs, such as the idea that it is unnatural for members of two different races to marry. By doing this, you are demonstrating the problem with the idea of defining certain social practices as ‘natural’ or as ‘unnatural’, while highlighting the bigotry in your opponent’s argument.


‘Natural’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’

Just because something is natural, doesn’t mean that it’s better. The best way to point this out is by using specific counterexamples, as you can see in the following cases:

  • Cyanide is also natural (it can be found in cherry, apple, and peach pits), so natural clearly isn’t always good for you.”
  • “Cars and planes are also unnatural, so does that mean we should never use them again, and just stick to walking?”
  • Steve Jobs also relied on ‘natural’ medicine to treat his cancer, and it likely cost him his life.”


Accounting for the backfire effect

One thing that you need to keep in mind when arguing against people who use appeals to nature is the backfire effect, which is a cognitive bias that sometimes causes people to cling more strongly to their beliefs when they are presented with information that contradicts them.

Because of this effect, when you point out the flaws in an appeal to nature argument, people may cling to their fallacious reasoning even more strongly. To mitigate this effect, you don’t want to be too confrontational. This means that if you actually want to change the other person’s mind, the best course of action is to help them see the gap in their logic themselves, by introducing your counterarguments slowly, and letting them understand the issue with their original stance.

For example, if you want to point out that just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it’s good, you can help the other person reach that conclusion themself, by presenting them with relevant information, rather than by stating this directly. If someone says that a certain herbal medication is safe because it’s plant-based and therefore ‘natural’, your first instinct might be to say something like:

Well, cyanide is plant-based and natural too, so I guess natural doesn’t always mean that it’s safe.

However, if your goal is to get them to change their mind, you can benefit more from saying:

I understand where you’re coming from, but I still think you need to make sure that it’s been tested and shown to be safe. I read about some cases where simple herbal teas caused pretty severe medical complications, and apparently one of the issues is that these teas are often unregulated, so manufacturers aren’t required to list their potential side effects on the package, unlike with regular medication.

Again, your approach depends on what you’re trying to accomplish by discussing the topic. Specifically, ask yourself whether you just want to point out that the other person is wrong (which is perfectly fine in some situation), or whether you want them to understand and internalize the problem with their reasoning.


Using appeal to nature arguments yourself

First of all, consider the fact that you might be using this type of reasoning yourself, unintentionally. If so, try to be more critical of your thought process in areas where this might be the case. Essentially, if your only argument in favor or against something is that it is ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’, try to attack this reasoning yourself, by using the techniques we saw above for countering it. This will allow you to look at things in a more rational way, and to make better, more-informed decisions.

As with any other type of fallacious arguments, you can use appeal to nature arguments intentionally in debates. Since a smart opponent will want to counter your argument by using the techniques we saw earlier, you need to be ready to defend your stance, by explaining why X is natural/unnatural, and why that’s good/bad. Since your argument has no logical basis, it will probably be necessary to distort either the opponent’s claims or your own  to make them easier to attack/defend, which you can do for example, by using a straw man argument in addition to the appeal to nature.

However, remember that using this argument means that your stance is based on fallacious reasoning, which in this case is relatively easy to notice. This makes your stance difficult to defend, and can reflect badly on you. Therefore, use this type of argument only if you’re sure that it’s appropriate in your situation.


Summary and conclusions

  • An ‘appeal to nature’ is a logically-fallacious argument, which involves claiming that something is either good because it’s considered ‘natural’, or bad because it’s considered ‘unnatural’.
  • This type of argument has two main flaws in reasoning, which you can focus on to counter people who use it.
  • The first main flaw in this reasoning is that it’s difficult to classify something as ‘natural’, and people are often wrong about it even by their own standards. You can point this out by asking them to define what is ‘natural’, and by giving examples for things which under their definition are natural, but which they clearly wouldn’t think of as such.
  • The second main flaw in this reasoning is that just because something is ‘natural’, doesn’t mean that it’s good, and just because something is ‘unnatural’, doesn’t mean that it’s bad. You can point this out by giving specific counterexamples.
  • When you point out the flaws in this logic, your opponent might experience the backfire effect, which will causes them to support their original stance more strongly in the face of evidence that they’re wrong. To avoid this, you can point out the flaws in their reasoning in an indirect, non-confrontational manner, which will help them come to the right conclusions by themself.


Don’t Just Think Outside the Box: Ignore It

Don't just think outside the box: ignore it


A Stanford professor once gave her class the following assignment: using a $5 investment as seed money, earn the largest amount of money you can, in just two hours. Each of the fourteen teams in the class was given a few days to plan what they would do, with the rule being that once they open the envelope with the cash, they have only two hours to run their scheme. Afterwards, the money would be tallied, and they would have to present their project to the class.

If you want, you can take a few minutes to think what you would do in this scenario before continuing. Otherwise, read on to see what happened.


The projects

When this assignment is presented, people’s first instincts usually fall under two categories. The first is to suggest something along the lines of “buy a lottery ticket” or “go to a casino”. While this could work in theory, the odds are inherently against you, and you’ll just be relying on dumb luck. The second is to suggest traditional business ideas, such as setting up a lemonade stand or a car wash, using the $5 to purchase the necessary materials. While this could work, the problem is that these solution are low risk, but also have a low potential for reward.

However, after giving it some thought, the teams often manage to come up with more creative solutions, which allow them to make much more money than they would otherwise, without having to take on any additional risks.

  • One team identified a common problem in college towns: the frustratingly long lines at popular restaurant on Saturday night. Their idea was to help people solve this problem, for a fee. First, they walked around and made reservations at several restaurants. Once the time for their reservation approached, they went to customers waiting in line, and sold each reservation for up to $20, to people who were happy to pay in order to avoid the long wait. As the night went on, this team also noticed that they had an easier time selling their reservations in restaurants that use a pager to let customers know that their table is ready. They attributed this to people being more comfortable paying when they receive something tangible in exchange, which led them to focus on this type of restaurants. This new focus also offered an additional benefit: after switching the original pager with the new one which had a reservation for a later time, the team could wait a bit and then sell the newly-acquired pager to a new customer, who gave them a new pager in return, thus creating a profitable cycle.
  • Another team set up a stand in front of the student-union building, where they offered to measure the tire pressure on people’s bikes for free. Then, if the tires needed to be refilled, they offered to do so for the price of $1. Initially, they were worried that they were taking advantage of fellow students, who could fill their tires for free at a nearby gas station. However, after serving a few people, the team realized that the students were grateful, because this service offered them a valuable degree of convenience, for which they were happy to pay a small price. Like the first team, this team also adjusted halfway through the two-hour period, and started asking for donations, instead of a fixed payment. Because students were grateful for this service, the team’s income soared.
  • The team that made the most money took a completely different approach. They realized that the most valuable asset they have wasn’t the $5 or the two hours, but the three-minute class presentation, where they hold the attention of all the students in their class. This group sold their presentation time to a company that wanted to recruit students from the class, and spent the three minutes pitching the company to their fellow students.

All these teams had one thing in common: instead of trying to solve the solution within the constraining $5 framework, they took a completely different approach, and managed to make much more money than they would have otherwise.


Summary and conclusions

  • Students were given a simple task: using $5 and two hours, make the largest amount of money possible.
  • The winning teams were those who ignored the $5 completely, and who were therefore not constrained by this limiting amount.
  • One team made reservations to restaurants during peak times, and then sold them to people waiting in line. Another team offered to add air to people’s bicycle tires, for a fee. The team that made the most money was the one who sold the time allotted for their class presentation to a company that wanted to recruit students from their class.
  • The lesson here is that sometimes, when trying to find a solution to a problem, you can benefit from attacking the problem from a completely new angle that bypasses any limiting constraints, rather than trying to work within the framework of these constraints.
  • Another lesson from the winning teams is that you should adjust your solution as you go along. For example, the team selling the reservations realized that their scheme works better at restaurants which use a pager to alert customers about their reservations, while the team filling tires realized that they can make more money by asking for a donation, instead of for a fixed-fee payment.