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Digital reviews reveal games may boost mental health: U of Oregon study

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(The Center Square) – Playing Wordle or Soduku on your phone every morning could provide benefits, even if making you smarter isn’t one of them. Such games may boost users’ mood and confidence, according to a new study released by the University of Oregon.

Researchers from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication studied brain-training games, collections of puzzles, and quizzes marketed for improving people’s minds that lack any scientific backing.

However, the games, or any challenging game, may help restore psychological well-being, even if they lack any cognitive health benefits, according to a study led by Waseq Rahman, a doctoral candidate in communication and media studies at the University of Oregon.

Rahman and his colleagues, including UO assistant professor of game studies Maxwell Foxman, did the study by looking at reviews on the Google Play Store.The International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction published the researchers’ findings.

Though past research used experiments to see if these kinds of brain games could improve cognition, the new study examined players’ subjective impressions and looked at reviews for popular brain-training apps.

“This really allowed us to get the raw consumer perspective and see if the people that are actually playing the games find them effective,” Foxman said. “It also provided a real diversity of stories, from veterans talking about retraining their brains after trauma to elderly people trying to exercise their brains in addition to their bodies. We could have done interviews instead, but having this dataset gave us access to a large repository of all those different stories.”

The researchers examined thousands of user reviews for brain-training apps, including Lumosity, Elevate, and Peak.

Along with collaborator David Markowitz of Michigan State University, the researchers used an automated text analysis program and a qualitative thematic analysis to see users’ feelings toward these games.

The researchers were unsurprised about the lack of a consensus surrounding the apps’ supposed cognitive benefits to users. However, they were encouraged to see the many positive reviews players wrote where players and they appreciated they “appreciated the entertaining, challenging and progress-tracking aspects of the gameplay,” the release said.

Many reviewers said they felt better and gained confidence after playing, even if they were unsure if they gained any cognitive ability from the games.“Our findings show that not only are people getting better at these games, but they also enjoy getting better,” Foxman said. “This might be why people play Wordle or Sudoku every day. Enjoyment is a powerful personal force, economic force, and cultural force that should be given more significant attention.”

Rahman told The Center Square that no evidence exists that succeeding in or struggling with these games improves depression or other mental health problems, though the researcher said it’s plausible. “Any games that sufficiently challenge players can provide a sense of mastery and competence that aids in relaxation and recovery from stress, especially when players enjoy overcoming these challenges,” Rahman wrote in the email.

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