Is gamification a suitable tool for increasing participant engagement with cognitive tests?

  • Jim Lumsden

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Over the past decade, gamification – the use of game design elements in non-game contexts – has rapidly grown in popularity, piquing the interest of researchers in many fields, including cognitive psychology. Computerised cognitive tasks are a vital data capture tool for these researchers, but participants often view these tasks as effortful and frustrating. Gamification offers a possible solution: if game elements can be incorporated into cognitive tasks without undermining their scientific validity, then data quality, intervention effects and participant retention might be improved. The purpose of this thesis was to establish whether gamification is a suitable tool for increasing participant engagement with cognitive tasks.

A systematic review revealed a literature of variable quality: findings were tentatively positive but hampered by heterogenous study designs, poor experimental controls and little attempt to methodically understand the effect of introducing game elements to a cognitive task. I therefore conducted a series of three online experiments. Each study investigated the effects of two common game design elements, points and theme, on cognitive data and participant engagement with the task.

I found that adding points to a cognitive test did not negatively impact the data collected, and improved participants’ self-reported engagement with the task. In contrast, I found that graphically themed tests had a negative impact on cognitive data and did not clearly improve participant enjoyment compared to a non-game control. I found no evidence of an effect of gamification on behavioural measures of engagement (i.e., task usage); rather it seems that motivation to engage was often driven by financial incentive.

In summary, the evidence presented in this thesis suggests that gamification is not an effective method of increasing engagement with cognitive tasks. However, carefully implemented game elements can enhance participants’ subjective experience while not impacting the data collected.
Date of Award7 Nov 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorAndrew L Skinner (Supervisor) & Marcus R Munafo (Supervisor)

Cite this