Play games for ten extra years of life

Video games are always present in the media, usually because the so-called shoot-’em-up games are under suspicion of boosting violent behaviour in young adults. However, in previous posts we also learned that they can be very beneficial because they boost individuals’ creativity, attention, and visual thinking. Now what if online video games could even prolong our lives?

This is what game designer Jane McGonigal speaks about in her TED Talk. She says that online games
  • bring friends together that would otherwise not be in touch with each other.
  • are a good way of spending time with your kids.
  • have been shown to boost mood and happiness.
  • help us express our true selves through avatars.
In her talk, she tells her own story about when she had to rest her head for three months after a concussion and avoid everything that would trigger its activity: no reading, no writing, no work, no exercise, no alcohol, no caffeine, and so on. It happened to her what happens to one in three people who suffer traumatic brain injury: she had suicidal thoughts.

But she decided that she wanted to get over these thoughts by using an online game. She knew from research that games boost creativity, determination, optimism, and make it easier for people to ask others for help. The way they do this is they make one adopt a secret identity, find allies, battle the evil guys, and activate power-ups. And she realised that even though she was still in pain, she stopped suffering. The same thing happened to other people with very serious and incurable diseases. She says the game helped with post-traumatic growth.

What are the factors that lead to post-traumatic growth? Jane McGonigal summarises the four aspects of resilience: physical, mental, emotional, and social resilience. To achieve these four aspects of resilience, however, we do not need to suffer traumatic brain injury. We can train them, and it does not even require a lot of effort. To achieve physical resilience, do not sit still. To become mentally resilient, train your willpower by tackling tiny challenges without giving up. To get emotional resilience, provoke powerful positive emotions. Finally, to achieve social resilience, get strength from friends, family, colleagues, and others around you by expressing gratefulness, or, even better, by physically touching them.
Research shows that those who regularly boost the four types of resilience (physical, mental, emotional, social) live ten years longer than others. Games seem to be doing exactly this. And therefore, she comes to the conclusion that games can boost our resilience, help us experience post-traumatic growth and give as ten extra years of life.

The future of learning

A few months ago, we reported on how schools should change in order to improve children’s learning. We learned that teachers are the key factor because they can make children curious and treat them individually. Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? But now imagine schools without grades, even without teachers. Impossible, you think? Maybe not.


The classical principle of school is going to change radically in the future. The starting point for these radical ideas is that the system like we have it now is outdated and does not fulfill the needs of the modern world any more. On Psychology Todayeducational psychologist Peter Gray from Boston Collegereports that performance appraisals at school inhibit learning instead of enhancing it. What makes them even worse is that they disadvantage those children from poor families disproportionately.


On the Psychology Today website, there is a whole collection of articles outlining directions into which future schooling (or unschooling?) could go and what requirements should be fulfilled for children to learn well. So what is wrong with a school system that has been used for centuries and why does it seem not to work any more?


In a TED Talk, educational psychologist Sugata Mitra from Newcastle University explains that our school system has its origins in the British Empire and was created for educating people who would later work in the bureaucracy. They had to be able to read, write and calculate, and they were educated for conformity. This is not what we need for today’s world. In his talk, he reports on his experiments with placing a computer in a hole in the wall and just letting children explore themselves.



In his experiments, Sugata Mitra only gave children a quick introduction into browsing the web with the computer and then let them explore by themselves. The surprising result was that they taught themselves all kinds of complex knowledge. He also found that they could even improving their learning when the teacher, instead of telling them facts, kept on asking questions and made the children explain contents to her.


Just as Peter Gray, he argues that punishment and examinations are seen as threats. Under threat, our prefrontal cortex is shut down by the more ancient parts of our brain. However, the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain where learning happens.


He points out that learning is a self-organised process. You don’t have to make people learn. The teacher only sets the process in motion. The results presented in the talk demonstrate that it works. Again, imagine schools without grades, even without teachers. Quite possible, isn’t it?


Re-thinking the effects of stress

Do you often experience high levels of stress? Are you therefore trying to achieve a moderate level of stress so that you can stay healthy and happy? Wait a moment. Maybe this is not necessary. Recent research says that stress might in fact be good for your health – under certain conditions.

In a TED Talk, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains how her own notion of stress was changed by a longitudinal study in which researchers found that stress increases the risk of dying, but only when you believe it to be harmful for your health. If you don’t, you have a lower risk of dying – lower even than the risk of those who experience low levels of stress. In her talk, she outlines how changing how you think about stress can make you healthier.

If people believe the stress response of their body to be helpful (“If your heart beat increases, it will give you more energy; if your breath becomes faster, it will give you more oxygen.”), they feel less stressed out. Surprisingly, when thinking like this, the physiological response of their bodies resembles the one that appears in a state of joy. Moreover, stress increases the level of oxytocin, which is good for the heart. This hormone is enhanced by social contact and social support. The effect of social support during stressful times was investigated in another study that looked at people’s risk of dying after personal crises. Such crises increased people’s risk of dying, but this was not the case when they spent a lot of time caring for others.

Kelly McGonigal comes to the conclusion that how you think and how you act can transform the effects of stress. Her advice is to view your stress response as helpful and to connect with others under stress. This will put your body into a positive physiological state and enhance your resilience.


In the film “Inception”, the main character tries to implant a thought into another person’s subconscious so that the other person will think it was his own idea. Science fiction? Maybe not. Recent research suggests that it is possible to plant false memories into people – without any advanced technology, even without drugs.

Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus from the University of California says that for her studying memory does not mean finding out when people forget, but rather how people remember things that did not happen or were different from the way they remember – false memories. We already reported on the finding that memory does not work like a recorder, but that it is constructive. The research by Elizabeth Loftus suggests that, as she puts it, “memory works like a Wikipedia page: you can go in there and change it, but so can other people”. I a TED Talk, she explains how she and other researchers succeeded in planting false memories into their study participants by simply asking questions in a certain way or by using an imagination exercise.

Thus, implanting a false memory does not seem to be that difficult. For example, after showing people videos of car crashes, their memories could be manipulated by the words the researchers used in the recall question. Furthermore, after a simple imagination exercise, people believed such things as having been lost in a shopping mall, nearly having drowned, being attacked by an animal, or witnessing demonic possession as children.

The experiments show that the idea the film “Inception” is based on is closer to reality than most of us might think. It is possible to implant false memories, good ones just as much as bad ones, and this might happen voluntarily or accidentally. Elizabeth Loftus concludes with the words: Just because someone expresses something with confidence, in detail and with emotion it does not mean that it really happened.

Talking about memory: we did not forget the last three posts but we were busy: we submitted papers for next year’s SIOP Conference, exhibited at a trade fair, and hosted our international client event and partner meeting. Be prepared for weekly updates again from now onwards.