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Esports Could Enhance Cognition and Focus, Scientists Find

Researchers from two Japanese universities believe that, when used correctly, esports can improve our cognition and concentration.



Making heightened focus measurable and visible could help prevent gaming addiction (via Getty Images).

The heart rate variability (HRV) index may reveal changes in cognition and concentration during esports in realtime. This was proposed by a research team led by Dr Toshitaka Yamakawa, an associate professor at Kumamoto University's Faculty of Advanced Science and Technology.

The team further suggests that a wearable device that measures the timing of heightened cognition and concentration would be useful in many fields. For example, they could be used to develop tools for improving concentration and preventing gaming addiction.

Their research was first published in the Journal of Digital Life, an online multidisciplinary journal.

Mariokart Could Improve Concentration

Esports has garnered interest not only for its entertainment value, but also for its application in the medical field. This includes the treatment of mental disorders such as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), schizophrenia, and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder).

But esports can also have harmful effects, such as sleep deprivation and depression caused by gaming addiction. How an individual plays esports seems to make a significant difference in its impact.

In a study using Nintendo's popular game Mario Kart, Goichi Hagiwara, an associate professor at Kyushu Sangyo University's Faculty of Human Sciences, and his colleagues discovered that esports could improve cognition and concentration.

Harnessing the Benefits of Esports

To maximize the benefits of esports, Dr Yamakawa's team tested a method to monitor the effects of esports on a player's mental state.


The team believes that using a wearable device to detect heightened cognition during play could determine the best use of esports for each individual.

For this study, they used the HRV index because it can measure changes in the autonomic nervous system without causing harm to the body. It's also used to diagnose cardiovascular disease and assess mental states like stress, drowsiness, and emotions. Recent research suggests a link between the HRV index and cognition.

ST is the paper version of the Stroop effect test and the STapp is the app version. Cognitive skills were measured using these tests before and after the training period and esports tasks. The HRV index was measured by wearable devices continuously during the experiment. (© Sankei Digital)

The team investigated the relationship between the HRV index and heightened cognition caused by esports using an original wearable device.

Twenty subjects were assigned to either a "training" group or a "non-training" group in this study. The "training" group spent six weeks playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, a racing esports game, for at least one hour per day, five days a week. Then, the subjects completed a Stroop effect test to assess their cognitive abilities. 

Improvement in Reaction Times 

The final STapp (an app version of the Stroop effect test) showed that the training group's reaction time improved significantly, indicating a temporary improvement in cognition.

The researchers also compared the HRV index of ten subjects who experienced the greatest improvement with that of the other ten subjects. It was discovered that two parasympathetic indices, SDNN and RMSSD, were significantly higher in the top ten subjects.

"It can be deduced that the changes in these indices are due to esports activating the frontal lobe of the brain, which increased inhibition," Associate Professor Yamakawa and his colleagues concluded. "Further research could lead to the development of a wearable system that detects and predicts cognitive function enhancement during esports. This could help prevent game addiction and broaden the application of esports."

Left: Wearable device used to measure HRV indices. Right: Screenshot of smartphone application showing the results. (© Sankei Digital)

The study was conducted by Dr Yamakawa in collaboration with:

  • Dr Hirohisa Isogai, professor of the Faculty of Human Sciences, Kyushu Sangyo University
  • Dr Goichi Hagiwara, associate professor of the Faculty of Human Sciences, Kyushu Sangyo University
  • Kazuki Hisatsune and Toshihide Otsuki of the Graduate School of Science and Technology, Kumamoto University.


(This article was first published on Sankei Biz by the Journal of Digital Life. Read the related article in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Taketoshi Noma


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