Cell Phone Games That Can Give Your Brain a Workout!

NYU and UCSB professors team up to create free research-backed games to help improve cognitive skills.


(Dean Drobot / Shutterstock.com)

Playing games on your cell phone while you wait for your turn at the post office or during a long commute can be a fun way to pass the time. Many games on Facebook like Candy Crush or Farmville have over 10 million monthly players according to GameHuntersClub. There are old favorites like Classic Solitaire or Freecell, and a myriad of games geared for kids to keep them busy for hours.

Now, New York University (NYU) Steinhart professor of digital media and learning sciences Jan L. Plass, and some of his colleagues created digital games that aren't just fun to play. These games can actually help children and adults to improve their cognitive skills.

The selection of three digital games help players brains work more efficiently according to an NYU press release. The team of researchers from NYU in New York City and The University of California in Santa Barbara (UCSB) completed four years of extensive research and found that these games can help boost memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility.

“Can games actually have positive effects on players? We believe they can, and we designed three games to support learners in developing cognitive skills that researchers have identified as essential for success in daily life, executive functions,“ Plass said in the press release.

The researchers developed three games: Gwakkamolé, CrushStations and All You Can EAT E.T.; that are available online and in the iOS and Google Play app stores. After they saw that the games improved brain function in as little as two hours, the team decided to make the games available at no cost. They are absolutely free.

The games are unique because, "unlike other games, our apps were designed from the ground up by a team of developmental psychologists, neuroscience researchers, learning scientists, and game designers to train cognitive skills,” said Bruce D. Homer, a professor of educational psychology at the Graduate Center of NYU and one of the researchers.

All of the games were developed at NYU's CREATE lab. Here are brief descriptions of the games:

This game was designed to train inhibit control which is the ability to control attention, behavior, thoughts, and emotions) according to the NYU. In the game, players have to smash the avocados that pop-up, but they have to avoid the ones that are wearing various hats. Players gain points when they smash the hatless ones and lose points if they smash the covered ones. The speed increases as the player gains levels. Gwakkamolé forces players to pay attention and to respond quickly.

This game, according to NYU,  uses crustaceans who live in the ocean to train working memory which is responsible for processing information and plays an important role on how people remember information that they learn. CrushStations requires players to remember the color and type of creatures on the screen in order to free them from a hungry octopus. If the player remembers the creature correctly, it goes free and if not, the creature is devoured by the octopus. This game increases in difficulty as it progresses by giving players more and more creatures to remember.

All You Can E.T.
NYU said that this game is designed to train cognitive flexibility which is defined as the mental ability to think about multiple concepts at the same time, like multi-tasking. In All You Can E.T., the players have to provide aliens with food and drinks to help them survive. The challenge is that these picky aliens keep changing their minds about what they want depending on how many eyes they have and the colors of their bodies. One example is that one round, two-eyed orange alien will only eat cupcakes. As the game progresses, the rules about what the aliens will change.

“While some children have access to the best schools and resources, this is not the case for many families from less affluent communities across the nation. We hope these games can help close the gap that this lack of opportunity has created,” said Plass.

Now, letting kids play games on their phones is something that can be encouraged. Screen time can actually help kids and adults do better in school , work, and in life.

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