Popular Mobile Games Can Be Used To Detect Signs Of Cognitive Decline

Popular mobile games can be used to detect signs of cognitive decline. Game-related metrics on existing off-the-shelf games, including Tetris, Candy Crush, and Fruit Ninja, have potential to be used as proxies for conventional cognitive measures, specifically for visuospatial function, visual search capability, mental flexibility, memory, and attention.

Researchers have concluded that individuals with poorer cognitive functioning tend to perform differently while playing video games, as indicated by swipe speed and swipe length. The researchers believe that their findings show promising potential in using such features and analysis for game-based cognitive assessment in the future.

These findings were reported in “Exploring The Touch And Motion Features In Game-Based Cognitive Assessments” by Jittrapol Intarasirisawat, Chee Siang Ang, Christos Efstratiou, Luke William Feidhlim Dickens, and Rupert Page. One of the key objectives was to examine the degree to which an association exists between mobile game-play behavior and cognitive functioning. The researchers recruited 21 participants between the ages of 18 and 34 years through email invitations for voluntary participation in the study via University of Kent mail lists. Potential participants were excluded if they were critically ill, diagnosed with neurological or psychiatric disorders, diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease or arthritis, currently receiving psychoactive medication, blind or color-blind, unable to understand verbal English instruction, or unable to play video games for more than three hours a day.

The participants were required to complete two sessions: One basic session, and one mental fatigue-inducing session. Prior to the basic session, the participants were asked to complete a mood questionnaire and a sleep diary. The participants were then required to perform a set of cognitive measures and to play three games in succession for 10 minutes per game. In the mental fatigue-inducing session, the participants followed the same steps described in the basic session, except that they were required to perform a mental fatigue-inducing task for 30 minutes prior to taking a series of cognitive ability tests. The three games used in the study were: Tetris, Fruit Ninja, and Candy Crush Saga. The three games were chosen together for a diversity of game play characteristics in order to explore different demands on cognitive function (i.e., visuospatial in Tetris, response inhibition and attention in Fruit Ninja, and visual search in Candy Crush Saga).

Global cognitive functioning was measured by five factors:

  • Attention (ATN) refers to the participants’ ability to stay focused on target stimuli or tasks over a long period of time. The researchers anticipated ATN having a significant influence on performance in all three games.
  • Memory (MEM) is the ability to maintain information over time.
  • Visuospatial ability (VISP) refers to the ability to understand spatial relationships between objects.
  • Trail Making Test Part A and B (TMTA and TMTB, respectively) were used to measure participants’ visual search and processing speed including visual attention. However, in addition to the previous cognitive domains, TMTB also tested participants’ mental flexibility.
  • Response Inhibition (RESIN) is the suppression of actions that are inappropriate in a given context. Higher values indicate a decline in cognitive performance and vice versa.

The researchers found that overall swipe speed features were positively correlated with TMTA and TMTB in Tetris and Candy Crush, while overall swipe speed features in Fruit Ninja and Candy Crush were positively correlated with RESIN. These results imply that increases in swipe speed were associated with decreases in performance on these cognitive functions (visual search, mental flexibility, and response inhibition). Additionally, the results showed that swipe length related features were positively and significantly correlated with TMTA, TMTB, and RESIN. In other words, it indicates that increase in swipe length is associated with decreased performance in visual search, mental flexibility, and response inhibition. The researchers also confirmed assumptions that in-game scoring features demonstrate an association with cognitive performance.

The full text of “Exploring The Touch And Motion Features In Game-Based Cognitive Assessments” was published in September 2019 by Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies at https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=3351245. A copy is available online at https://kar.kent.ac.uk/75919/1/Exploring%20the%20Touch%20and%20Motion%20Features%20in%20Game-Based%20Cognitive_Final.pdf.pdf (accessed October 21, 2019).

For more information, contact: Chee Siang Ang, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer, University of Kent, Jennison Building, University Of Kent, Canterbury CT2 7NT, United Kingdom; 44 (0)1227 827783; Email: c.s.ang@kent.ac.uk; Website: https://www.kent.ac.uk/.


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