Study participant Ann Linsley plays the NeuroRacer game  (Source: Susan Merrell)
The game is called NeuroRacer, and it trained the brain of 60-85 year olds

Researchers from San Francisco found that the adult brain can be trained to enhance cognitive performance through the use of 3D video games. 

Scientists from UC San Francisco -- led by Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, UCSF associate professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry and director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center -- used a 3D car racing video game to train the brain in cognitive areas such as working memory and sustained attention. They wanted to see if training would have long-term results in cognitive performance.

The team took a group of 60- to 85-year-old participants and had them play 12 hours of the car racing video game (which was developed by the UCSF researchers) over a period of one month. 

The game, called NeuroRacer, asks participants to race a car around a track while several different road signs appear. The participants must watch for a specific type of sign, while ignoring all the rest. When that particular sign appears, they must press a button. 
According to the team, this sort of multitasking creates interference in the brain that weakens performance. They found that this interference increases significantly across the adult lifespan.

After the 12 hours of training with the 3D game, the participants had improved their performance until it exceeded that of 20-year-olds who played the game for the first time.

You might be thinking, "yeah, if you take enough time to master a skill, of course you'll get better, and the task will get easier." However, Gazzaley said that NeuroRacer is different. It doesn't allow for people's natural tendency to go on auto-pilot once they've mastered a game; it pushes them further, and gets harder as they get better. 

Six months after the training was over, the participants were asked to play the game once again, and they had maintained their skills

So what's the explanation for this improvement? The team said the training induced changes in a neural network. 

The team used Electroencephalograph (EEG) recordings to measure midline frontal theta (low frequency oscillations) in the prefrontal cortex, as well as "the coherence in these waves between frontal and posterior regions of the brain." As the participants got better at the game, activity in this neural network started mimicking that of a 20-year-old. 

The participants were put through another test, called Test of Variables of Attention (TOVA)  (measures sustained attention), and performed rather well. 

"The amount that midline frontal theta went up was related to something that was untrained, this other measure, the TOVA," said Joaquin A. Anguera, the paper's first author and a post-doctoral fellow in Gazzaley's lab. "It implies there's something that changed that was common to the training and to the task we tested afterwards."

Source: Science Daily

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