For this study, the team recruited 40 5-year-olds to play a 5-minute-long videogame. Blue and yellow dots flashed up on the screen, and children were asked to pick if there were more blue ones or more yellow ones – and quickly, without giving them time to count. A voice feedback system told them if they were correct or not after each attempt.
One group of kids played a version of the game wherein each round had increasingly similar numbers of blue and yellow dots. Another group began with the hardest possible color combinations, and a third group worked through a mixture of randomly sequenced easy or hard rounds.
After a 5 minute session, the children were given either a vocabulary test or a mathematics test, the latter of which involved basic addition or choosing which numbers were higher or lower in a sequence.
Ultimately, the dots test didn’t improve their vocabulary scores; however, the kids who played the version of the dots game wherein each subsequent round was more difficult than the one preceding it scored the highest on the mathematics test – they got about 80 percent of the answers right.
The children who started with the hardest color combinations first got 60 percent of the answers in the mathematics test right, and the control group, featuring the mix of hard and easy tasks, scored around 70 percent on average. Clearly, at least in the short term, 5 minutes of honing their instinctual mathematics skills improves their more precise mathematics skills.
Is the gameification of mathematics the way forwards? ISchmidt/Shutterstock
In fact, it’s particularly interesting that the group doing the same task but with increasing difficulty came out with the best scores. A recent study demonstrated that people doing precisely this doubled the speed in which they learned and adapted to the game at hand, thanks to a phenomenon known as “reconsolidation”, wherein the original neural connections forged earlier during the game are altered and reinforced, making them more adaptable in the long-run.