Game elements improve performance in a working memory training task


  • Manuel Ninaus University of Graz
  • Gonçalo Pereira INESC-ID and Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa
  • René Stefitz University of Graz
  • Rui Prada INESC-ID and Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa
  • Ana Paiva INESC-ID and Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa
  • Christa Neuper University of Graz; 3Laboratory of Brain–Computer Interfaces, Institute for Knowledge Discovery, Graz University of Technology, Austria
  • Guilherme Wood University of Graz



working memory, game elements, gamification, flow experience, cognitive performance


The utilization of game elements in a non-game context is currently used in a vast range of different domains. However, research on game elements’ effects in cognitive tasks is still sparse. Thus, in this study we implemented three game elements, namely, progress bar, level indicator, and a thematic setting, in a working memory training task. We evaluated the impact of game elements on user performance and perceived state of flow when compared to a conventional version of the task. Participants interacting with game elements showed higher scores in the working memory training task than participants from a control group who completed the working memory training task without the game elements. Moreover, game elements facilitated the individuals’ performance closer to their maximum working memory capacity. Finally, the perceived flow did not differ between the two groups, which indicates that game elements can induce better performance without changing the perception of being “in the zone”, that is without an increase in anxiety or boredom. This empirical study indicates that certain game elements can improve the performance and efficiency in a working memory task by increasing users’ ability and willingness to train at their optimal performance level. 


Shipstead Z., Hicks K. L., and Engle R. W., Cogmed working memory training: Does the evidence support the claims?, Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 185–193, Sep. 2012.

Hulme C. and Melby-Lervåg M., Current evidence does not support the claims made for CogMed working memory training, Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 197–200, Sep. 2012.

Owen A. M., Hampshire A., Grahn J. a, Stenton R., Dajani S., Burns A. S., Howard R. J., and Ballard C. G., Putting brain training to the test., Nature, vol. 465, no. 7299, pp. 775–8, Jun. 2010.

Deterding S., Dixon D., Khaled R., and Nacke L., From game design elements to gamefulness: defining gamification, in MindTrek 2011 Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments, 2011, pp. 9–15.

Deci E., Koestner R., and Ryan R., A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation., Psychological bulletin, 1999.

Mekler E. D., Brühlmann F., Opwis K., and Tuch A. N., Do Points , Levels and Leaderboards Harm Intrinsic Motivation?? An Empirical Analysis of Common Gamification Elements, in Gamification 2013 Proceedings of the First International Conference on Gameful Design, Research, and Applications, 2013, pp. 66–73.

Prins P. J. M., Dovis S., Ponsioen A., ten Brink E., and van der Oord S., Does computerized working memory training with game elements enhance motivation and training efficacy in children with ADHD?, Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 115–22, Mar. 2011.
Csikszentmihalyi M., “Flow: The psychology of optimal experience.” Harper & Row, 1990.

Webster J., Trevino L., and Ryan L., The dimensionality and correlates of flow in human-computer interactions, Computers in human behavior, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 411–426, 1994.

Baddeley A., Working memory: looking back and looking forward., Nature reviews. Neuroscience, vol. 4, no. 10, pp. 829–39, Oct. 2003.

Baddeley A., Working memory, Science, vol. 255, no. 5044, pp. 556–559, 1992.

Pickering S. J., “Working Memory and Education.” Elsevier Academic Press, 2006.
Klingberg T., Training and plasticity of working memory., Trends in cognitive sciences, vol. 14, no. 7, pp. 317–24, Jul. 2010.

Alloway T. P. and Alloway R. G., Investigating the predictive roles of working memory and IQ in academic attainment., Journal of experimental child psychology, vol. 106, no. 1, pp. 20–9, May 2010.

Gathercole S. E., Alloway T. P., Willis C., and Adams A.-M., Working memory in children with reading disabilities., Journal of experimental child psychology, vol. 93, no. 3, pp. 265–81, Mar. 2006.

Morrison A. B. and Chein J. M., Does working memory training work? The promise and challenges of enhancing cognition by training working memory., Psychonomic bulletin & review, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 46–60, Feb. 2011.

Csikszentmihalyi M., “Beyond boredom and anxiety.” Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1975.

Kiili K., Perttula A., Lindstedt A., Arnab S., and Suominen M., Flow Experience as a Quality Measure in Evaluating Physically Activating Collaborative Serious Games, International Journal of Serious Games, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 35–49, 2014.

Kiili K., Digital game-based learning: Towards an experiential gaming model, The Internet and Higher Education, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 13–24, Jan. 2005.

Kiili K., de Freitas S., Arnab S., and Lainema T., The Design Principles for Flow Experience in Educational Games, Procedia Computer Science, vol. 15, pp. 78–91, Jan. 2012.

Pereira G., Ninaus M., Prada R., Wood G., Neuper C., and Paiva A., Free Your Brain A Working Memory Training Game, in Games and Learning Alliance conference, 2014, pp. 1–10.

Hattie J. and Timperley H., The Power of Feedback, Review of Educational Research, vol. 77, no. 1, pp. 81–112, Mar. 2007.
Kluger A. and DeNisi A., The effects of feedback interventions on performance: a historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory., Psychological bulletin, vol. II, no. 2, pp. 254–284, 1996.

Rheinberg F., Vollmeyer R., and Engeser S., Die Erfassung des Flow-Erlebens [measuring flow-experience], in Diagnostik von Motivation und Selbstkonzept, Göttingen: Hogrefe, 2003, pp. 261–279.

Oberauer K., Süß H., Schulze R., Wilhelm O., and Wittmann W. W., Working memory capacity—facets of a cognitive ability construct, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 29, pp. 1017–1045, 2000.

Oberauer K., Su H., Wilhelm O., and Wittman W. W., The multiple faces of working memory?: Storage , processing , supervision , and coordination, vol. 31, pp. 167–193, 2003.

Engeser S. and Rheinberg F., Flow, performance and moderators of challenge-skill balance, Motivation and Emotion, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 158–172, Sep. 2008.

Nakamura J. and Csikszentmihalyi M., The concept of flow, in Handbook of positive psychology, Snyder C. and Lopez S., Eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 89–105.

Jackson S., Thomas P., Marsh H., and Smethurst C., Relationships between flow, self-concept, psychological skills, and performance, Journal of applied sport psychology, vol. 13, pp. 129–153, 2001.

Puca R. M. and Schmalt H.-D., Task enjoyment: A mediator between achievement motives and performance, Motivation and Emotion, vol. 23, no. 1, 1999.

Schüler J., Arousal of flow-experience in a learning setting and its effects on exam-performance and affect, Zeitschrift für Pädagogische Psychologie, vol. 21, pp. 217–227, 2007.

Nagle A., Wolf P., Riener R., and Novak D., The Use of Player-centered Positive Reinforcement to Schedule In-game Rewards Increases Enjoyment and Performance in a Serious Game, International Journal of Serious Games, vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 35–47, 2014.






GaLA Conf 2014 special issue

How to Cite

Game elements improve performance in a working memory training task. (2015). International Journal of Serious Games, 2(1).

Most read articles by the same author(s)

1 2 > >>