Skill and specificity

Older adults who play the strategy game “Rise of Nations” develop an improvement in general cognitive function:

Decades of laboratory studies designed to improve specific cognitive skills, such as short-term memory, have found again and again that trainees improve almost exclusively on the tasks they perform in the lab – and only under laboratory conditions, Kramer said.

“When you train somebody on a task they tend to improve in that task, whatever it is, but it usually doesn’t transfer much beyond that skill or beyond the particular situation in which they learned it,” he said. “And there are virtually no studies that examine whether there’s any transfer outside the lab to things people care about.”

But my understanding is that there has been lots of research (PDF, 369 KB) indicating that artistic development improves other cognitive domains pretty well. Is this new result surprising because we associate video games with wasted time rather than art making?

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