North Carolina State and Georgia Tech researchers want to determine whether video games might help the elderly improve their thinking.

The National Science Foundation is funding the work with a $1.2 million grant spread over four years.

Researchers plan to establish a baseline of data based on cognitive function in study participants of men and women age 65 and over. Then those in the study will play two games from the Nintendo Wii system before being tested again for cognitive function.

The games to be used, Boom Blox and Boom Blox Bash Party from Electronic Arts, enable the researchers to manipulate novelty, “attentional demand” and social interaction.

Based on their findings, the team hopes to develop a prototype for a video game that would boost memory and thinking.

“What qualities does a game need to contain to improve cognition?” asked Anne McLaughlin, the principal investigator for the grant and an assistant psychology professor at NCSU. “We want to determine the components an effective game should have.”

Attentional demand refers to the amount of attention a person requires to complete a task.

“For example, if we find that novelty and attentional demand improve cognition, we’ll then develop a game that focuses on that,” McLaughlin said.

Also involved in the project are Jason Allaire, who also is an assistant professor of psychology at NCSU, and Maribeth Gandy, a Georgia Tech research scientist.

McLaughlin, a human factors psychologist, and Allaire, a cognitive aging psychologist, co-founded the at NCSU. Their efforts focus on examining the relationship between video games and the cognitive functioning in older adults.

“The goal of this research is to identify the video games, and conditions under which they are played, that provide the greatest boost to older adults’ memory and cognitive functioning,” according to the GTG Lab web site.