Treating ADHD with Video Games?

Dr. Wexler Says “All Games are Not the Same”

Bruce Wexler, the highly regarded psychiatric neuroscientist from Yale University, was recently interviewed on Canada-based CBC Radio about the specifics behind video games and treating ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). The interview comes in the wake of Dr. Wexler developing his own game that he believes boasts potential as a “non-pharmaceutical ADHD intervention” method to improve focus and mental agility, and also comes in the midst of an overwhelmingly formidable gaming culture raised on a steady diet of games – a culture which, inexplicably to many, encompasses kids and adults.

But when it comes to their children, it’s no secret that video games make parents a little cautious, if not more than moderately concerned; after all, video games have been blamed for the promotion of violence as well as crafting a whole generation of kids diagnosed with almost non-existent attention spans. What’s worse, parents dealing with children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder feel video games are yet another roadblock in their attempts to get the kids to focus.

Still, professionals studying these phenomena, such as Dr. Wexler, believe that not all games are created equal – in fact, researchers are currently working to harness what they feel is the great potential locked within such games in order to “retrain the brain.” In an overwhelmingly eye-opening finding, many researchers have said alternatives to drugs historically used to treat different disorders, such as Ritalin, could even come in the form of a video game.

“There’s a lot of evidence now that we can use computer-presented, engaging activities like video games to harness the brain’s natural neuroplasticity for a variety of therapeutic purposes, including treating ADHD.”
-Bruce Wexler


In his interview with Brent Bambury of CBC Radio, Dr. Wexler first and foremost defined “video game” as a general term that refers to the technology and imagery on a television screen, computer monitor or, in more elaborate and adult-oriented home theater setups, front projection system, but stressed that its content can vary widely. In this way, says Dr. Wexler, all games are not the same, with some games having a specific type of effect on a child and others having very different effects. Indeed, there now exists a respectable amount of evidence that suggests professionals like Dr. Wexler can use computer-presented, engaging activities like video games to harness the brain’s natural neuroplasticity for a variety of therapeutic purposes – including the treatment of ADHD.

In Dr. Wexler’s own pirate-themed video game, a shiny orb floats around the screen and at times turns into a blue jewel or red jewel; the purpose of the game, according to Dr. Wexler, is to exercise sustained attention and response inhibition. In the game, what was a target that players were supposed to click on seconds before now becomes an image they must ignore – adding in cognitive flexibility, as well.


With regard to Dr. Wexler’s aforementioned “response inhibition,” this is a reference to self-control, and is part of the self-regulation that many children suffering with ADHD lack. By constantly exercising response inhibition, kids are helped to resist distractions coming in from all around them – in the classroom or even noise in the hallway. According to Dr. Wexler, these children must resist, or inhibit, their tendency to respond to those stimuli while also inhibiting their internal impulses.

When it comes to video games, Dr. Wexler made it clear that traditional games most kids play today encourage a high-stimulation, high arousal arcade-like environment, and in that situation with constant stimulation, ADHD children can become engaged. In fact, Dr. Wexler believes that these games actually engage the child’s effort and attention via bypassing the executive control systems needed to sustain attention in a situation that may not be so arousing or stimulating.


In conclusion, Dr. Wexler didn’t refer to the games he is involved in creating as being “sophisticated;” as he himself explained it: “Our games are actually much more sophisticated in terms of what’s going on behind the scenes. On the surface, it may seem like the initial levels of these games are very challenging because there’s hundreds of difficulty levels within them – but we have gone through multiple generations of games and actually work very closely with computer entertainment game designers to employ the latest features of game protocols that can help in gauging interest without producing that high activity arousal situation.”


Listen to the full interview with C8 Sciences’ Dr. Bruce Wexler!