Executive Functions in Digital Games

Executive Functions in Digital Games

Elizabeth Boyle (University of the West of Scotland, UK), Melody M. Terras (University of the West of Scotland, UK), Judith Ramsay (University of the West of Scotland, UK) and James M. E. Boyle (University of Strathclyde, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9624-2.ch025
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Despite enhanced appreciation of the nature and scope of the cognitive advantages of playing games, our understanding of the actual mechanisms responsible for generating and maintaining these remains limited. In this chapter, the authors propose that viewing these changes from the information processing perspective of executive functions will help to elucidate the psychological infrastructure that underpins these gains. They apply Anderson's model of executive functions to understanding how games support visual-perceptual processing and higher-level thinking and problem solving. As well as extending our appreciation of how digital games can support learning, research on executive functions highlights the implications of the limitations of our cognitive systems for game design.
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‘Executive functions’ are not straightforward to define. In early theoretical accounts, such as that of Baddeley and Hitch (1974), the central executive was conceptualised as a unitary system. However, the unitary concept of the central executive has undergone ‘fractionation’ (Baddeley & Della Sala, 1996, p. 1402) into a much wider range of processes which are subsumed under the term ‘executive function’. For example, Miyake, Friedman, Emerson, Witzki, & Howerter (2000) carried out a confirmatory factor analysis of performance data from adults and found evidence for inter-related but dissociable contributions from the executive functions of shifting of attention, updating of working memory representations, and inhibition. Andersson (2008) offers an even more fine-grained analysis: ‘The key elements of executive function include (a) anticipation and deployment of attention; (b) impulse control and self-regulation; (c) initiation of activity; (d) working memory; (e) mental flexibility and utilisation of feedback; (f) planning ability and organisation; and (g) selection of efficient problem solving strategies’ (Andersson, 2008, p. 4).

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