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What are Cognitive Games?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Cognitive games are games and exercises which are designed to help people improve cognition. These games can be used in many different settings. Children are sometimes exposed to cognitive games to stimulate learning and to prepare them for the classroom environment, for example, while such games may be used with victims of stroke, traumatic brain injury, and other neurological events to aid recovery. Some people also just enjoy cognitive games as a recreational activity which can also be beneficial to the mind.

These games are very diverse in nature. Cognition, the process of thinking, requires activity in various regions of the brain as the brain responds to stimuli and processes information. Cognitive games are supposed to do things like improving reflexes, helping people learn, promoting critical thinking, and helping people with pattern associations. A cognitive game can also be used to help someone learn a foreign language, memorize materials, or perform other learning-related activities.

Whether or not cognitive games are truly beneficial is a matter of debate. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle; not all games labeled as “cognitive games” really stimulate cognition, but cognitive games are not entirely useless, either. Working with some games does appear to improve cognition in some studies, and some studies also suggest that different people respond differently. A game heavy on visual stimuli, for example, might improve cognition in one person and do nothing for another.

Examples of cognitive games include computer games, exercises on computers, flash cards, board games, physical puzzles, and some physical activities. One advantage of cognitive games is that they can be tailored to an individual, which can be especially important when they are used in a therapeutic setting. A stroke victim with impaired vision, for example, might benefit from games and activities directed by a therapist which stimulate the other senses, while a young child who does not enjoy sitting still might like physical activities like puzzles, which can also improve fine motor skills in addition to activating areas of the brain involved in problem solving.

Claims made on the packaging of cognitive games are fairly unreliable. Professionals such as neurologists and developmental psychologists may have recommendations for particular games which they think are beneficial. These games can include activities which don't require any purchases of products, such as making up mnemonics at home with a young child to help the child learn and process material learned in the classroom.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By rjh — On May 31, 2011

@roser - I definitely think sudoku counts. I play it all the time as well, you might say I'm addicted! Thankfully it's one of the rare addictions that is actually healthy. Sudoku requires you to use concentration, logic and common sense so it kind of gives you a cognitive workout, you might say. The best thing is that it’s accessible anywhere; you can play it on your phone or in the newspaper or on the Internet.

I guess you could make a comparison to physical exercise; just like physical exercise keeps you physically healthy and prevents muscle loss, mental exercise like sodoku keeps brain cells from dying and promotes better brain function.

By roser — On May 31, 2011

Does sudoku count as a cognitive game? I play it on my phone all the time and I think it improves my memory and helps to keep my brain sharp. It’s so easy to zone out and forget what you’re meant to be doing but I think practicing sodoku really helps me focus.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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