Gamification of Cognitive Assessment and Cognitive Training: A Systematic Review of Applications and Efficacy

Jim A Lumsden, Elizabeth A. Edwards, Natalia S. Lawrence, David Coyle, Marcus R. Munafò

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

293 Citations (Scopus)
760 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Cognitive tasks are typically viewed as effortful, frustrating, and repetitive, which often leads to participant disengagement. This, in turn, may negatively impact data quality and/or reduce intervention effects. However, gamification may provide a possible solution. If game design features can be incorporated into cognitive tasks without undermining their scientific value, then data quality, intervention effects, and participant engagement may be improved.

Objectives: This systematic review aims to explore and evaluate the ways in which gamification has already been used for cognitive training and assessment purposes. We hope to answer 3 questions: (1) Why have researchers opted to use gamification? (2) What domains has gamification been applied in? (3) How successful has gamification been in cognitive research thus far?

Methods: We systematically searched several Web-based databases, searching the titles, abstracts, and keywords of database entries using the search strategy (gamif* OR game OR games) AND (cognit* OR engag* OR behavi* OR health* OR attention OR motiv*). Searches included papers published in English between January 2007 and October 2015.

Results: Our review identified 33 relevant studies, covering 31 gamified cognitive tasks used across a range of disorders and cognitive domains. We identified 7 reasons for researchers opting to gamify their cognitive training and testing. We found that working memory and general executive functions were common targets for both gamified assessment and training. Gamified tests were typically validated successfully, although mixed-domain measurement was a problem. Gamified training appears to be highly engaging and does boost participant motivation, but mixed effects of gamification on task performance were reported. Conclusions: Heterogeneous study designs and typically small sample sizes highlight the need for further research in both gamified training and testing. Nevertheless, careful application of gamification can provide a way to develop engaging and yet scientifically valid cognitive assessments, and it is likely worthwhile to continue to develop gamified cognitive tasks in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11
Number of pages14
JournalJMIR Serious Games
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2016

Structured keywords

  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Tobacco and Alcohol


  • gamification
  • gamelike
  • cognition
  • computer games
  • review


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