These researchers use games to understand how the brain works

Did you know that games (card, board, or video) were sometimes used in scientific research?

Researchers use games to study brain performance and social behavior.

In June 2024 the newspaper The nature of human behavior to publish this matter By Allen K. et al. It aims to encourage the use of games as experimental models to increase both the ecological (i.e. contextual) validity and the volume and strength of research into brain function.

Advances in psychological and cognitive science have been made possible primarily by the development of simple experiments with controllable factors that are used over and over again in many studies. This is ideal for obtaining reproducible results as well as accurate statistical modeling, but it greatly limits the types of questions we can ask, and therefore the answers we get!

So the authors suggest here Games as an alternative routeThe goal is to expand the repertoire of classical psychological tasks to verify that psychological theories developed through simple experiments can explain people's behavior in more contextual situations, but also to ask (and thus answer) new questions about the workings of the brain.

But actually, what is the game?

Yes, yes, it is a serious question, and there is a surprising answer to it from the Austrian philosopher Wittgenstein: according to him, Games are the perfect example of a concept that does not require a strict definition to understandBecause there is no common element between all games. Therefore, it may be impossible to find a definition that can include all current and future cases!

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However, here the authors have chosen the following definition of “games”, which certainly has its limitations, but allows it to respond to the context of the article: “Facilitators who regulate player behavior and whose primary goal is fun.” In fact, games Intuitive environments That reflect aspects of the real world that can be easily interacted with. This makes it particularly interesting to study inductive biases that lead to a complex action in a given context.

Other feature of the game: we enjoyThis is intrinsically motivating! Believe me, this is an important component of what is perhaps the most difficult part of setting up a population research protocol: selecting people (in terms of numbers, but also in terms of diversity). It is often difficult to obtain a large enough number of people to obtain interesting statistical power.

So we are the opposite of classical experiments which (in general) are not at all intuitive and are rather boring.

Concretely, how does it work? To give an example, Van Oveusden et al. It developed a two-player game similar to tic-tac-toe or gomuku, in which players take turns placing tokens until one player connects four of their colored tokens in a line.

Working in collaboration with a mobile app company, the authors were able to collect data from over 1.2 million players online and in the lab!

Their results prove this The depth of people's planning increases with their level of gaming experience. Furthermore, they showed that online players started out with significantly worse search strategies than laboratory participants. So it might be interesting to study how people improve their search strategies by observing a more general online population, where volunteer participants in the lab seem to actually start at a higher level.

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Monitor social behaviors

Another example : Overcooked And Symbolic names They are ideal games for studying social behaviors that rely on shared knowledge (such as social transmission, group searching, or any other large-scale social phenomenon), where victory depends on sharing inductive biases with other members of the group.

One of the main benefits of games is that they can help us answer questions in completely unique ways. That relate to our deepest motivations. For example, why do we pursue goals despite the absence of external reward? This is what we notice with such games Maine Craftwhich does not offer a specific goal to achieve but offers a sandbox mode in which the player can act freely.

What do people decide to do in this type of scenario? Do they set themselves goals to achieve, and if so, what timescale or difficulty do they set for themselves? These are questions that are generally not found in classic psychological experiments and which games can give you the opportunity to answer them.

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Other games such as Zelda require the player to use multiple cognitive aspects simultaneously Planning, exploration and memorywhich are traditionally studied separately using classical methods, thus ignoring potential interaction effects.

Clearly, the use of games in a research context faces limitations, ranging from the difficulty of controlling different parameters or even inter-individual variability regarding, for example, the experience that people have with the same game before participating in a test. However, these limitations are not insurmountable through good study design, according to the authors.

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So what about you, would you agree to play for science?

Stan Shaw

<p class="sign">"Professional food nerd. Internet scholar. Typical bacon buff. Passionate creator."</p>

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