Study Tests Effect of Video Game on Impulse Control

A new study at Bradley Hospital is testing whether a pirate-themed computer game can improve brain activity underlying impulse control in children. The study, led by Brian Kavanaugh, PsyD, a pediatric neuropsychologist at Bradley Hospital, is recruiting children ages 8 to 14 that experience impulsivity, or difficulties with self-regulation.

Controlling actions or inhibiting impulses is also known as a type of executive functioning. Many children with mental health conditions such as ADHD often experience executive functioning weaknesses. However, these weaknesses often don’t respond to currently available interventions. The goal of this research is to develop new treatments that can improve executive functioning in children and adolescents, particularly for those symptoms that do not respond to medication or therapy, and make these treatments available to families alongside current psychiatric and psychosocial treatments.

Children who participate in the study will complete one or two visits to Bradley Hospital, where they will complete questionnaires and perform cognitive tasks. Some of these tasks will be completed while wearing an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap, which allows for the monitoring of brain activity during tasks. Outside of these visits, participation will involve playing the pirate video game from a home computer or tablet.

The pirate activities are designed to be interesting and interactive to the children, but unlike many other computer games, these games are cognitively challenging. They require the children to utilize skills such as focus, memory, and "stop and think." In addition, the game is designed to become more challenging when the child does well, and lessen the intensity when the child has a harder time. By engaging these cognitive activities through a platform that is familiar and fun, the training will hopefully improve the children’s ability to utilize these skills in their daily environment.

To further development of treatment options, Dr. Kavanaugh has received funding from the Rhode Island Foundation and Thrasher Research Fund to conduct a similar study that will test whether this pirate video game can be paired with non-invasive brain stimulation to improve executive functioning in adolescents.

For more information or to refer a patient for this study, please contact Dr. Kavanaugh at 401-432-1359 or email bkavanaugh@lifespan.org.

Learn more about research at the Pediatric Anxiety Research Center (PARC) at Bradley Hospital