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Study: World of Warcraft boosts brain functions in seniors

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Forget golf: today's retirees should be playing video games.

Or at least World of Warcraft.

A new study out of North Carolina State University finds that the massively-multiplayer behemoth can have a beneficial impact on the brains of elderly players.

Researchers examined two groups of seniors between the ages of 60 and 77. One of those groups did nothing, while the other picked a side with the Alliance or the Horde and played WoW for about 14 hours over two weeks. (Not exactly the marathon sessions of some WoW enthusiasts, but still a respectable amount.)

When the two groups were retested, researchers found that the gamers showed a significant increase in cognitive functioning — specifically, spatial ability and focus.

"We chose World of Warcraft because it has attributes we felt may produce benefits — it is a cognitively challenging game in a socially interactive environment that presents users with novel situations," says Dr. Anne McLaughlin, assistant professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of the study's report. "We found there were improvements, but it depended on each participant's baseline cognitive functioning level."

"The people who needed it most — those who performed the worst on the initial testing — saw the most improvement," adds Dr. Jason Allaire, associate professor of psychology at NC State and another co-author of the paper.

World of Warcraft isn't the only game that researchers have found to have cognitive benefits. In early 2011, the University of Toronto sat players down in front of Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault and had them play sessions lasting up to 10 hours. The study found that after playing, the subjects tended to be more focused, said researcher Jing Feng, who oversaw the testing.

And earlier this year, a study published in the current American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that select exercise-based video games may have positive mental benefits for older adults — and could help stave off dementia.

Looks like Azeroth might need to open a senior center.

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