Source: Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count (2009). p. 49.

  We have every reason to believe that these sorts of visual exercises actually improve fluid-intelligence skills and the executive functions that underlie them, including working memory and control of attention. Researchers have shown, for example, that video-game players can attend to more things at once than can nonplayers. Video-game players can also ignore irrelevant stimuli more effectively than nonplayers and can see objects in a broader visual field than nonplayers. To make sure that what they have observed of computer-game players is not just a self-selection effect (with the fluid IQ hotshots being the ones most likely to play computer games in the first place), the researchers had non- players learn a game—Medal of Honor [emboldening mine]—that they thought would teach the attention-control skills of their video-game players, and had other nonplayers play a computer game that the researchers did not believe would be capable of teaching attention control, namely, Tetris. Subjects played the computer games for an hour a day for ten days. At the end of the period, Medal of Honor players did better on the attention-control tasks than did Tetris players.

Exclude Medal of Honor that's already cited overhead.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure you can find lots of information on Chess (which has been available in video game form for decades). In my experience, it helps with decision making and working memory (if you don't memorize moves to play like a computer), whereas Arimaa helps with resourcefulness and creativity. Games like Cut the Rope can help people to think logically with physics principles and timing. Personally, I think all games help toward intelligence (but what kind is the question). $\endgroup$ – Brōtsyorfuzthrāx Apr 28 '18 at 6:26

This paper by Shams, Foussias, et al. (2015) gives a good meta-analysis of studies that have been conducted on the effects of video games on intelligence. Some games described as improving cognition were:

Super Mario 64:

"Significant increase in gray matter volume in the right HC, right DLPFC, and bilateral cerebellum in the video game group compared to the control group"


"Puzzle game group improved in attention and visuo-spatial ability"

Starcraft and The Sims 2 (female subjects):

"Games that emphasize rapid switching between multiple information sources led to a significant increase in cognitive flexibility"

There's many other games covered in this paper, displaying a variety of cognitive and neuroanomatical changes in subjects who played them regularly for a somewhat extended period of time (typically 1-2 months).


"A number of structural imaging studies have found that video game play can alter brain structure, especially gray matter volume. These studies have typically analyzed a particular video game or video game type. The most commonly studied category in the last few years has been complex strategy games such as Super Mario 64 or Space Fortress..." (emphasis added by me)


Shams, T. A., Foussias, G., Zawadzki, J. A., Marshe, V. S., Siddiqui, I., Müller, D. J., & Wong, A. H. (2015). The Effects of Video Games on Cognition and Brain Structure: Potential Implications for Neuropsychiatric Disorders. Current Psychiatry Reports, 17(9). doi:10.1007/s11920-015-0609-6

  • $\begingroup$ The Mozart Effect, memory training, and so on... So many methods of improving intelligence being suggested. In all cases it takes years and years of studies, then meta-analyses are published showing small aggregate effects and evidence of publication bias. Is this the next 'method of improving intelligence' that is gonna fall to the replication crisis? It certainly has all the markers that should worry any serious scientist: very small samples (seriously, just ignore n<100 studies), many comparisons, no large scale replication tests. It's a methodological mess. $\endgroup$ – Eff Jun 22 '18 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ From cited article to show what I'm getting at: In their study of 20 volunteers who participated..., They studied 70 human volunteers who played..., Another study investigated cerebral structural plasticity in 48 healthy volunteers..., Their study had two phases, one of which had 50 healthy volunteers..., A study by Anderson et al. (2011) performed fMRI imaging in 20 healthy volunteers..., Twenty-nine volunteers underwent fMRI scans..., Another study using the same game included 45 healthy volunteers..., changes caused by video game play in 30 healthy adult volunteers. $\endgroup$ – Eff Jun 22 '18 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ I simply looked at the citations in a row (in the section Prospective Studies--Structural and Functional Brain Effects), not a single study of sample size larger than 100 before I was out of comment space. Let's just say that I would bet a lot of money that these studies wouldn't replicate in larger samples. $\endgroup$ – Eff Jun 22 '18 at 12:26

As a general point, many foundational principles of psychology suggest that playing individual computer games will not improve intelligence.

Learning tends to be fairly localised. Near transfer also happens (i.e., where there are common elements between one task and another task; e.g., playing one 3d shooter helps you play other 3d shooters).

In general, changing broad and complex traits such as as human intelligence, presumably requires complex and long-term interventions (e.g., like the fundamental structure of education).

Any correlations between video game playing and intelligence could be explained by third-variables.

If video game playing has an effect on intelligence, it is likely to be very small. And it would presumably it would be dose dependent, where presumably, it would be more about a long period of playing diverse games that would yield any effects.

That said, more localised effects on specific cognitive abilities seem more conceivable.

the Shams et al (2015) article mentioned in @optimizedp is interesting. That said, this is a difficult topic to study, and the vast majority of research in the area is underpowered.

  • $\begingroup$ This answer is much more reasonable. 'Underpowered' is an understatement. I glanced through the Shams et al (2015) article, and the referenced studies have very small sample sizes. Unfortunately, this is a common issue in research on improving intelligence. $\endgroup$ – Eff Jun 22 '18 at 12:36

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