Date of Award

Spring 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Nielson, Kristy A.

Second Advisor

Saunders, Stephen

Third Advisor

Hoelzle, James


Cognitive abilities decline as part of the normal aging process. Various non-pharmacological interventions are being studied in an effort to ameliorate this cognitive decline. Some of these interventions include computerized cognitive training, such as neuropsychological software (i.e., brain training games) and video games. A previous study in our lab found that older adults who played a brain training game or a video poker game showed similar cognitive gains. The purpose of the present study was to follow the methodological procedures of our previous study to try and determine if the positive effects seen for the brain training program and video poker were due to training effects or merely engagement effects. In doing so, it also sought to determine if a visual art intervention, a relatively unstudied but potentially beneficial intervention, would elicit cognitive gains. Twenty-five individuals (Mage = 86, Meducation = 16.2) were quasi-randomly assigned to an experimental digital art intervention, Art Academy, or an active control condition, Tetris. Participants played their assigned game at least twenty minutes per day for six weeks. Comprehensive neuropsychological assessments were administered before and after the intervention. Outcome measures were in the form of residualized change scores were calculated by regressing the pre-test scores onto the post-test scores to reduce effects of baseline and other non-treatment factors. Compared to the Tetris group, the digital art group improved on aspects of a list-learning test, visual memory test, a scanning and sequencing task, a psychomotor task, a mental rotation task, and a composite score of all cognitive change (Total Change Score). The Tetris group improved on a math fluency task, and both groups improved on the delayed recall of a story memory task. However, the Art Academy group also engaged in the intervention for significantly more minutes of overall play time than the Tetris group, potentially confounding the results. Two groups were created via a median split based on the duration of gameplay: High Gameplay and Low Gameplay. The High Gameplay group showed greater improvement on visual memory, verbal memory, a measure of executive functioning, as well as the Total Change Score. Compared to the active control of the current study (Tetris), the Brain Age group of the previous study showed greater improvement on tasks that are specifically trained (i.e., visual working memory, math fluency) but not untrained tasks (e.g., verbal memory). The study suggests that playing a digital art video game could be a viable intervention to improve cognitive functioning in older adults. However, future research is also needed because the confounding of total gameplay time with group, a metric that other studies rarely report, precludes strong conclusions about the specific training effects.