Being Good At Multiplayer Video Games Linked To Higher Intelligence, Study Finds

Research into the effects of video games on the brain has correlated playing certain strategy games with intelligence. Photo: PRI.org

A recent study has found a link between playing certain video games and increases in certain types of intelligence. It turns out that playing strategy games such as League of Legends is correlated with people’s performance on standardized intelligence tests.

The new study was published in the journal PLOS ONE and carried out by researchers at the University of York, UK.

IQ and the Top Players of League of Legends

The study was done in two different parts. The first portion of the study involved putting 56 participants through a series of psychometric intelligence tests and then comparing their scores in these tests against their mean performance in the strategy video game League of Legends.

The results of the study’s first phase found that there was a measurable correlation between how the players performed at the game and their performance on the intelligence tests. Specifically, the best players at League of Legends had an average IQ of around 115-120, which placed them in the top 15% of the population.

The second portion of the study involved analyzing gameplay data scraped from around 20,000 people who played 2 MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) games (League of Legends and Dota 2) and 2 First Person Shooter games (Destiny and Battlefield 3). MOBA games involve a lot of strategy, but they are fast-paced. Meanwhile, FPS games involve fast reactions and accuracy to shoot targets.

The study examined the relationship between how subjects performed at intelligence tests and their performance at the action strategy game League of Legends. Photo: MMOs.com

The researchers noted that the data found that performance in strategy games like Dota 2 and League of Legends tended to be at its peak for gamers around their mid-20s. This reflects similar findings with more traditional strategy games like chess. Peak skill in chess games follows similar trends, and a person’s peak IQ tends to be around their mid-20’s as well.

By contrast, no correlation between intelligence and performance was observed in data collected on the first person shooter games. The researchers say this could be because FPS games depend more on speed and accuracy than strategic decision making and working memory. MOBAs which require strategic decision making utilize the same skills that have been linked with high IQ, like the ability to recognize new patterns.

The researchers summarize their findings like this:

“Previous research suggests that people who are good at strategy games such as chess tend to score highly at IQ tests. Our research has extended this to games that hundreds of millions of people across the planet play every day. This suggests that performance in these games could provide a useful, general, easy-to-collect measure of intelligence.”

Intellectually Demanding and Popular

The researchers say that video games are opening up new possibilities for research, including being a useful “proxy test” for estimating the IQ of large populations of people. The 3D puzzle game Portal 2 has been suggested as a possible way to test certain types of spatial intelligence as well.

The advantage of using video games as testing tools is that strategy video games like Dota 2 and League of Legends are popular and intellectually demanding.

“Games such as League of Legends and Dota 2 are complex, socially-interactive, and intellectually demanding. Our research would suggest that your performance in these games can be a measure of intelligence,” explained the study’s co-author Professor Alex Wade.

League of Legends is one of the most popular games in the world, with 67 million active monthly players. This huge player base means a massive sample to work with when conducting research on players of the game, and their intellectually demanding tasks make an excellent proxy for testing general intelligence.

The research team from the University of York thinks that video games could be especially useful tools in fields like cognitive epidemiology. Cognitive epidemiology involves examining the links between health and intelligence, and it can be used to monitor the cognitive health of an entire population of people. For instance, it has long been known that exposure to lead and other heavy metals can cause cognitive impairments.

However, by using games to monitor a theoretical IQ level for a population, it could function as an early-warning system for places with tainted water supplies, like Flint, Michigan. The data gained from players of certain strategy games would be anonymized and then compared with the performance data of similar “control” populations in other areas, allowing health professionals and researchers to get early information on cognitive declines throughout a population.

Cognitive Flexibility

The research done at the University of York was not the only recent research to hypothesize that video games could be linked to a form of general intelligence.

Researchers at both Queen Mary University of London and University College London recently collaborated on a study which sought to determine how video games could impact a person’s “cognitive flexibility”. The researchers defined cognitive flexibility as a person’s ability to keep track of multiple ideas at one time and use those ideas to solve problems, as well as their general ability to jump back and forth between two unrelated tasks.

The collaborative study examined the relationship between playing strategy games and “cognitive flexibility”. Photo: g2play.net

The research team had 72 people play either Starcraft, an action strategy game, or The Sims for about 40 hours over the course of 6 to 8 weeks. The study found a noticeable correlation between playing Starcraft or other strategy games and an enhanced level of cognitive flexibility. This was demonstrated when those who played Starcraft proceeded to score much higher in a set of cognitive flexibility tasks than those people who played The Sims. The StarCraft players showed improved accuracy and speed at the cognitive flexibility tasks, and the researchers said that cognitive flexibility was a “cornerstone of human intelligence”.

The researchers allowed the players to play more and less complex versions of the game, and they found that “the volunteers who played the most complex version of the video game performed the best in the post-game psychological tests.”

“We need to understand now what exactly about these games is leading to these changes, and whether these cognitive boosts are permanent or if they dwindle over time. Once we have that understanding, it could become possible to develop clinical interventions for symptoms related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or traumatic brain injuries, for example,” says Dr. Brian Glass, from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary.

While it may be too early to say that video games explicitly make people intelligent, there can be no doubt that video games represent a major avenue of research possibilities for science, as well as potential tools for researchers to use.

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