By Thomas Scott
On Jan. 1, The Scientist: Magazine of Life Sciences ran a story featuring one of Union’s assistant professors of psychology, Cay Anderson-Hanley.
The well-known scientific publication published her research on the effects of exercise games, or “exer-gaming,” on the cognitive functions of patients with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Anderson-Hanley conducted her research last fall in a room in Bailey Hall with two-way mirrors and exer-gaming equipment, along with two student research assistants. According to Anderson-Hanley, taking part in an “exer-gaming experience for just even a brief period…seems to help reduce…repetitive behaviors and…improves executive function.” The study’s participants took part in a cyber cycle ride or a game of Dance Dance Revolution, the latter of which is said to be more physically and cognitively intensive.
Anderson-Hanley remarked that the study was directed at the effects of exercise “and the ability of the computer and the virtual world to engage the child so that they would do the exercise, which we think is helpful in its own right.”
An even more central finding in Anderson-Hanley’s research is that those who engage in exer-gaming may exhibit what The Scientist article referred to as “less disruptive behavior.”
Another advantage of exer-gaming is what Anderson-Hanley calls “a more specific social interaction.” A participant’s social experience can extend to the virtual world by allowing him or her to exercise with others on the same screen. “There are a lot of neat possibilities,” she said. There are also “other studies [that] are trying to do more with…manipulating avatars…to try to encourage or enhance a child with autism’s social interactions.”
Anderson-Hanley further explained that while participants with ASD may “have a variety of social challenges [and] sometimes cognitive and behavioral challenges, they can use the equipment very effectively.” In fact, those with ASD “usually have an easier time interacting with [exer-gaming equipment] than maybe say, going to the gym and working out with a trainer.”
This helps researchers tremendously since “it is a hallmark of autism to perhaps avoid social interaction,” concluded Anderson-Hanley.