Mindfulness video game boosts players' attention spans, researchers say
Researchers use a video game to help kids become mindful.
By Zoe Reineck | Feb 11, 2020 | Print-friendly

Digital devices get a lot of blame for distracting kids from learning, but researchers have developed a "mindfulness" video game that they said could make its young players more attentive. The researchers, working at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California-Irvine, said that young people playing this game show positive growths in areas of the brain associated with attention.

The game, called "Tenacity," directs players to take deep breaths and count their breaths by tapping a touch screen once per breath. The players advance as they do this through relaxing landscapes and backgrounds, such as ancient Greek ruins or outer space.

The players are supposed to tap once per breath for their first four breaths and then tap twice every fifth breath. Players earn more points and advance in the game when they count five breaths in sequence accurately. The game's designers said that counting of breaths helps train the players in mindfulness, the state of being calmly aware of the present moment.

"Most educational video games are focused on presenting declarative information: various facts about a particular subject, like biology or chemistry," said Elena Patsenko, a research scientist at the Center for Healthy Minds and lead author on the recently published paper. "Our aim is different. We want to actually change the cognitive or emotional processeshow people think or process information they're trying to learn."

The research team gathered 95 middle-school children into two groups and had one group play Tenacity for 30 minutes a day for two weeks; the other group played another educational video game that did not involve mindful breathing. The Tenacity group showed increased connectivity between areas of their brains essential to attention; ans they performed better than the other group on an attention task.