Episode 57: Executive Functions and Gamification

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Erica: Welcome to the Personal Brain Trainer podcast. I'm Dr. Erica Warren.

Darius: And I'm Darius Namdaran. And we're your hosts. Join us on an adventure to translate the scientific jargon and brain research into simple metaphors and explanations for everyday life. We explore executive function and learning strategies that help turbocharge the mind.

Erica: Come learn to steer around the invisible barriers so that you can achieve your goals. This podcast is ideal for parents, educators, and learners of all ages. This podcast is brought to you by goodsensorylearning.com, where you can find educational and occupational therapy lessons and remedial materials that bring delight to learning. Finally, you can find Dr. Warren's many courses at, uh, learningspecialistcourses.com. Come check out our newest course on developing executive functions and study strategies.

Darius: This podcast is sponsored by Dyslexiaproductivitycoaching.com. We give you a simple productivity system for your Apple devices that harnesses the creativity that comes with your dyslexia.

Erica: Hey, Darius. Nice to see you today.

Darius: Nice to see you, too, Erica. What are we going to do today?

Erica: We're going to talk about executive functioning and gamification, one of my favorite topics.

Darius: I know it's one of your favorite topics because it's one of your real skills, being able to turn something like executive functioning into a game. So, let's talk about executive functioning and, um, gamification. Why is that important?

Erica: I think it's important for so many reasons, because I think one trend that I have seen a lot in my personal practice is that kids don't really enjoy learning anymore. A lot of kids don't enjoy school. And when we gamify the things that we're learning about, then it becomes fun. And when things are fun, we get dopamine bursts. When we get dopamine bursts, we're happy, we're more motivated. And so I think anytime we're doing anything with building skills, building cognition, learning, all of that, if we can make it fun, we're also making it easier, more enjoyable, more motivating. What are your thoughts on that?

Darius: Well, it's so true. Fun is the obvious answer there, and that's really important. But there's even deeper things. Like when you gamify something, you've got key performance indicators straight in front of you. What's your score? Where are you going? What's the map? What's the route? You've got real signposts, outcomes. You've got real feedback, and there's a fast feedback loop. And often it's social and relational and dynamic, and there's just so much of what we need as human beings put into gamification. Because if you want a successful game, it's got to meet certain successful outcomes. Otherwise, no one plays the game. And so you've got to actually build these things in. So it's quite a high bar to actually be able to gamify something like executive functioning, but people do it right.

Erica: And I think the other benefits are that it can take a very passive approach and make it more active. So many times when students are in a classroom, they are kind of passive participants, and they're having just to receive. And when you make something more active and they're more engaged and they're more a part of the process, then, interestingly enough, it becomes more multisensory, doesn't it? Because they become more active. They may be moving around; they may be organizing things. They're actually using their cognition in creative ways, and they're having to reason. So instead of being this kind of passive receiver, as if they're blank slates, they're an active member.

Darius: Yes. And I, um, love how, in a game, it's like a role play. You're practicing, and if you get it wrong, it's not a problem. Whereas if you do some of these things, it's like a flight simulator. You practice the executive functions of life. There's a game that I used to play. It's called Cash flow by the author of Rich dad, poor dad. And he took all of the principles involved in investing and put it into this game. It actually cost 200 quid. $200 for one board game. But it was well worth that $200. I played it so many times with so many executives, and it taught you the skills that people are taught with words. But just by playing a game in 3 hours. I did it with an executive team, uh, a c suite of executives. We played this game for 3 hours together, and they said, you know what? We've learned more business playing this game than we've been to the last three conferences that we paid thousands of dollars for. And we sat around with Darius and played this game. So that's the power of being able to distill principles into a game.

Erica: Wow. I love that. Well, and it reminds me of many years ago. And I've been thinking about bringing this game back somehow, digitally or as a printed board game. But I do sell it as a digital download. I have one called piggy banking, and I wanted to get all the principles of banking and saving money and using your checkbook and your register and your debit card and getting in concepts like writing a check. So they actually write checks or take bank loans, or have they bounce checks and getting all that vocabulary into it, and they're dealing with word problems and they're moving around the board, and of course, the person with the most money in their register or bank account is the winner.

Darius: Yes.

Erica: So it's the same kind of thing, I guess. If you really did a search, you'd probably find all of education could be gamified, right? If you really did a search for all of those games, you could gamify the whole of education, which, why not? Why not make it fun, is how I feel about it. I think there are those teachers that do a lot of that. And fortunately, there are a lot of apps now that gamify studying for test and, uh, preparing for projects. But it's interesting. I really like to use scribble. In my opinion, scribble really almost gamifies writing a paper because they make it so simple. So it's interesting when it really kind of, you're right. Holds the process for you and pulls you through it like a game, has this whole structure to it. And I think that education can do a better job of that sometimes.

Darius: Now, we've talked about how useful gamification is for all sorts of skills in life. Let's zoom in on, um, executive function and executive function games. Now, you make a lot of executive function games, so we're going to refer to a lot of your executive function games here that are going to be in the show notes below. But the focus isn't to sort of, uh, pitch all your games, but you've just covered so many things and the principles for people to look out for in executive function games. So how are we going to go about doing this and break it down? Are we going to go look at working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility one by one?

Erica: Yeah, let's do that. Because what would be nice is to talk about how games can develop those skills so that people have just an understanding of how that can happen.

Darius: Okay, working memory. So how do you develop your working memory in a game? How do you gamify working memory? Erica?

Erica: I think there are many different ways of gamifying working memory because remember, it is our memory working. And the tools within working memory are visualization, spatialization, inner voice. So one way that we can really gamify working memory is any kind of activity that builds visualization skills, any kind of activity that helps us to activate and utilize our inner voice to remember things and even anything that develops our spatialization skills. So, I mean, we can go right down into the tools of working memory and developing those skills, even listening skills in the sense of listening auditorially, listening visually, listening tactically to our environment, so that we kind of learn to use our sensory input in a more panoramic way. Yes, it could be that. It could also be getting more into memory strategies. Memory strategies in my book, gamify rope memorization.

Darius: Absolutely. I absolutely love doing it with students. Uh, it's mind blowing doing some of the simplest things with adults as well. So I'll give you an example. I've got some young students, twelve years old, they've got a complex word they've got to remember. And so I say, and often with dyslexia, you read the first couple of letters of the word and the last couple of letters and make up the bit in between. So if it's kind of dopamine, there'll be dopamine, dope, mine, dope, whatever, dope. But if you just chop it up into dope, uh, mine. Uh, so it's like, oh, the dope is mine. And you can sort of have a picture of some dope and, uh, it's like a treasure or something, and you make something fun out of it. And recently I did that with a midwife, and we took some very long medical terms that she knew what they were as drugs, but she had to be very precise for the exam and chopping them down. It's such a fun game. And that's gamification of memory.

Erica: Absolutely. In fact, my favorite memory strategy is what I call hooking. You see the answer in the question, or you might hear it in the question. I'll take the Spanish word brazo means arm. Well, if you break it apart, you can see the word bra in it, in the word brazo. And you have to put your arms through the bra to get it on. You could visualize the bra hanging off your arm. Or it's so much fun to do that. And sometimes people are like, but how can you find something in there? You'd be surprised. Everybody finds something different many times. So if you take the word, my favorite one is benevolent, if you didn't know what it meant, you, uh, can break it apart. I think I might have done this with you once we've done this.

Darius: Yes.

Erica: In so many ways. You might see Ben, who maybe is a kindhearted friend of yours. You might see the word love in the middle of it backwards. But the trick is letting people, what's the first thing they see, or they hear, or does it look like or sound like or remind them of? Or can they create a story out of something that's in the word?

Darius: And, um, it's also even more fun doing these exercises with other people rather than just with yourself, because once you've done. And that's part of the gamification, isn't it?

Erica: Yeah.

Darius: Just when I've done some group coaching with kids, I've taken one word and I say, oh, we've got. What did you say? Brazo means arm. So we've got the arm going through a bra. But what about Zoe? What are we going to remember with Zoe? And someone else is like, I can't think of what zo would be and someone else would. Zoe rhymes with whatever and comes up with, what would you come up with for Zoe, by the way?

Erica: One of my little students named Zoe.

Darius: Ah. Uh, bra. Zoe. Okay.

Erica: Yes. I, uh, picture Zoe putting on a bra.

Darius: I see. Yes. Um, and, um, there's an example of gamification. Because we've collaborated on this game of remembering this, I've come away with another tool and another way of strengthening my working memory. Because, by the way, if you're listening to this, you'll be wondering, one of the beautiful things, Erica, that you've really helped me understand is that the goal of working memory is to get out your working memory into your memory somewhere on the inside, or, as I like to do more, into something you'll remember on the outside with notetaking or something, but you've stored it somewhere so that your working memory empties and can take the next piece of information in. That's why these memory strategies are so useful because you basically get to take it out of that stage, take it off stage left, as we've talked about the stage of working memory and put it into its place in your memory.

Erica: Yeah. It does create an organizational structure so that when you encode it, you can retrieve it. But the best thing about hooking is the answers in the questions. So I tell whoever I'm working with, don't worry, just look at the word and say, what was my strategy? What was it? Oh, there it is. Bra. Oh, yeah. Arm. So it's amazing how it just really hooks the question to the answer. So even when you're having anxiety and your memory is blocked, you don't have to worry. You can relax because the answer is in the question.

Darius: Brilliant. So there's so much we've got to talk about here. Inhibitory control. How do we gamify that inhibitory control.

Erica: I think anything that exercises attentional skills, where you have to focus your attention, where there may be distractors, and you have to be able to kind of put on those blinkers and focus your attention. Anything that requires metacognition, where you're thinking about your thinking, or just even thinking about how, for example, words might categorize or organize. Right. Where you're having to kind of hold that information and organize it, which is kind of a combination of working memory and inhibitory control. Anything that triggers motivation is inhibitory control. Right.

Darius: I mean, scoring, for example, competition, putting a score up there so you can compete against your previous score or whatever is motivating for people and is also part of intrinsic. I mean, I'll give you an example. I have difficulty with my shoulder’s flexibility. At the moment, this seems left of center, but there's a test where you can put both arms, either side, and sort of try and scratch your back, and the gap between them is scored, and you can sort of measure that distance. Take a photograph, measure it, keep going. And so you've got something tangible to score your progress on. And in many ways, that builds focus, doesn't it? Which is part of inhibitory control. That's on a broader scale. But games that build intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Erica: Yeah. So extrinsic motivation is anything that's external.

Darius: To yourself, like, uh, scores, like scores or treats.

Erica: Or treats, yeah, right. That's true. Or prizes. Intrinsic is just feeling satisfied that you beat your last score, that you're getting better at something. And of course, if you're enjoying something, that always increases intrinsic motivation to do something. And then lastly, any kind of game. And I think in the last ten years, there's been quite a bit of gamification for emotional regulation.

Darius: Mhm.

Erica: Anything that helps people to be aware of their emotions. We live in a world where we can't really see ourselves, so we don't always see our emotional reactions. We have them, but we don't observe our own emotional reactions. And I'm pretty positive that if I could always see myself, I would probably have a lot more control over my emotional regulation.

Darius: How do you gamify emotional regulation, Erica?

Erica: I have a whole series of executive functioning games. Whether it is a game where everybody is assigned an emotion and they can't see it, but everybody else can see their emotion.

Darius: All right.

Erica: Or where they have to act out an emotion.

Darius: Wow.

Erica: So it could be like a charades, so you could do all sorts of things of, um. Are they aware of their emotions. Can they give you situations where they are emotional? Then you can brainstorm ways of managing emotions, handling other people's emotions.

Darius: Yeah. Oh, I've got to share something with you to do with AI and emotions. Okay, so it's a bit left of center, but as you can expect from me, but you know how big organizations use slack and personal messaging across different time zones. And it can be a bit challenging if you are a remote worker, online worker. Some of them can come across a bit wrong because you've not got that emotional dialogue. You can't see each other's faces, expressions. So what this woman started to do was take a screenshot of a conversation that made her feel a little bit icky, like a comment, and she's like, oh, uh, what does that mean? And she'd put it into Chat GPT and ask, give me five different options of what this person might be trying to communicate to me, and it would give different options. And saying, this person's actually trying to say this and that and so on. And I've used this with autistic people who often can't pick up the visual cues so easily. So it's really nice to copy and paste a message from someone on WhatsApp, put it in and say, what are they trying to say? Uh, how should I respond to this? What are the nonverbal cues in here? And Chat GPT is really good at picking up nonverbal cues and make you go, oh, that's interesting. And so she regulates her emotions by asking for what this person might be thinking, and then she can, ah, uh, that is the way Diego would be saying it. That makes sense. Got you right.

Erica: It's so interesting because I actually use AI for my own emotional regulation. So, for example, if I get, say, an email from somebody, that triggers me a bit and I know I need to respond and I need to sit on it, but I don't want to sit on it because that's just extending the discomfort for everybody. I will throw my emotional response to it into Chat GPT and say, can you take the emotion out of this and make it more sensible and kinder and loving and appreciative? And then it can do that for me. And then I'm like, uh, oh, yeah, that's much better. But it's interesting how it can almost shift me out of my pain of being stuck in that emotion and I can be more sensible and it's like, oh, yeah, okay, I probably could have gotten there in a day or two, but it's really nice to get there immediately. And that is gamification.

Darius: That is a bit gamification. Your kind of playing the game with Chat GPT, aren't you? Because Chat GPT is role playing backwards and forwards and what a lovely thing.

Erica: It's not emotional, it's, uh, opposite of emotional because it's out emotion.

Darius: Yes.

Erica: So it can help you to regulate in a way that a person really can't because they're always going to have an emotional response to what you say as well. So it's kind of interesting, isn't it?

Darius: Hey, do you know what, Erica? A lot of these kind of games, I wonder if you could play a lot of these games with an AI in some way, like listening skills and attention skills. Anyway, that's the future.

Erica: But right now, definitely, it's definitely the future. And you can have these really interesting dialogues that can. It's almost therapeutic. You really could. And you can even tell AI to take on the perspective of a certain type of therapy and say, okay, you're a behavioral therapist. I have this problem. What should I do? No, now you're a Freudian therapist. Now, what's your advice here? It can be really interesting.

Darius: Open AI have released an App Store in Open AI so people can create their own GPTs. So they could create Freud GPT. And so what they put in is like, I want you to act like a Freudian professor, but they've worked through the prompt and how to respond and the language and maybe some supporting documentation and things like that. And so when you go into Freud GPT, it's like someone else has created that prompt for you.

Erica: So it's created a. They're like, they're like Chat GPT paradigms, which, uh, have full backing of information about that particular paradigm.

Darius: That's right. So you could create the Warren GPT, okay. Or the Darius GPT or whatever. And what you would do is you would put in a way of speaking, I want you to work as an executive function coach here with a clear understanding of working memory, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility that is very practical and visual and dynamic. And don't speak. Yeah, all that. And then you would put in all hundred podcasts that we've done together and all the articles you've created as pdfs inside. They can't read the pdfs, but they're sitting there as reference documentation. So Chat GPT operates as Chat GPT in the role that you've defined it through the prompts, but then also dipping into the information you've got there. And then you go in, and you say, I don't want to put in all the prompts. I just want to speak to Erica and put it in. What would the brain trainer podcast have to say about this?

Erica: Know, Darius, this is quite a rabbit hole, and I'm going to take us a little deeper, but, oh, my God. You could, through AI, have a conversation with someone that you love that passed away. You could put in.

Darius: Yes.

Erica: Uh, put in all of their content, and then you could essentially speak to the essence of who they were by putting in all their data.

Darius: Yes. Wow.

Erica: It won't be long before AI can look at different pictures of those people that have passed and recreate an avatar that looks like them. So when you're.

Darius: Oh, you could do it now. You can do it now. Absolutely.

Erica: That's crazy. So, you know, what's going to happen is that we will be able to live on the gamification of living on. Wow. Yeah, I'm sure they'll bring people back like Einstein and, oh, uh, all right, that is a rabbit.

Darius: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's only a matter of days, Erica, before someone creates Einstein GPT within the Chat GPT store. And I think personally, I mean, we're going off topic here. Sorry, listeners, but this is, the whole point of this is it's a conversation between Erica and me. It's an excuse for us to have a conversation from our, uh, different perspectives in our different worlds and record it. So you can eavesdrop, basically, but I don't think it'll be long before anyone who publishes any particular content. You know how at the moment you write a book and people say in the book, please go to my website for this downloadable link or for more information, et cetera. In the future, they will say, please go to this GPT and, um, talk with my book or talk with my body of work. And so they will go of work.

Erica: You just said that was great. Talk with my body of work. That's really sweet.

Darius: Like, let's take this example here, Erica, you have got a mind-boggling number of games. Absolutely crazy. You come up with this idea, you know, the discipline, you go, right, how do I make this a game? I mean, you've made games specifically for just one person that 100,000 people would gladly play and published it and so on. But the number of games, and so helpful, actually, I've played some of them, like the direction-finding games. You've got an instruction do two along and then three up and then two along and down. And, uh, I'm terrible with dyslexia. But they really train your sort of spatialization and understanding what the sentence is saying and focusing and all sorts of stuff going on there. But what am I saying here? I'm saying, imagine if you had a GPT that was good sensory learning GPT, which is quite a long one, but Dr. Warren, GPT. And it said, find me a game that helps with such and such. And it would give you a short list of three games out of you. I don't know, how many games do you have? 50 to 100 that relate to those and explain why and what parts of it and so on. And then you could have another question. I'm not sure about the second game, but the third game looks quite interesting. How does that help with cognitive flexibility? Well, this is how it helps with cognitive. You could have a conversation about the.

Erica: Game with someone with the author's information. Yeah. How I would answer it, it's really interesting. Yeah, it's fantastic.

Darius: Okay. Uh, off of the AI addiction, and.

Erica: Let’s keep going back onto track with cognitive flexibility.

Darius: Yeah.

Erica: Which is so interesting. Well, we were talking about different paradigms, right? That what Chat GPT. I'm going to take us back to Chat GPT because it actually works really well with cognitive flexibility, is we were just talking about how we could create these different paradigms within, uh, Chat GPT. And a paradigm is a way of looking at things. So if you don't know what that means, it's kind of the lens through which you look at the world. A social constructivist will look at the world very differently than a behaviorist, for example. So that's what cognitive flexibility is all about. It's about being able to think flexibly, to look at life through the different lenses, so that you can find new ways of being, of perceiving. And cognitive flexibility can be a, uh, total lifesaver, because when you're stuck, it's cognitive flexibility that gets you unstuck, that allows you to, uh, one of my favorite words is, let's flip it. If you're in a situation where you're really anxious and you just say to yourself, okay, how can I flip this instead of being anxious? Because I often say to people that anxiety and excitement are very similar in the body, right? So if you're anxious, how could we flip it to excitement? Right? And then, uh, what it does is it just allows you to look at something from a slightly different point of view, so that you can get through something and find the wisdom of a different perspective, so that you can initiate a task, you can finish a task you can switch, a task you can accept. Transition.

Darius: That's really interesting. Can you give me a demonstration of that? That flipping it from anxiety to excitement.

Erica: Well, if you think about those two things, think about being anxious. What happens in your body?

Darius: Tense up, maybe.

Erica: What else?

Darius: Cortisol.

Erica: But what about in your body? What are you feeling in your body when you get anxious?

Darius: Tense.

Erica: Tense. What else? Okay. All right. And when you're excited, what do you feel in your body?

Darius: I get quite energetic and, um.

Erica: Energetic, bouncy.

Darius: Um. Um.

Erica: Okay, so is there anything similar between those two feelings for you? Do they have anything in common?

Darius: I'm not sure. Okay, help me.

Erica: Well, it's interesting because for me, they're very similar. When I'm anxious, I'm hyper aroused. Right. I'm a little distracted. I have a lot of energy within me now. It tends to be more frantic energy, but excitement. Because when you're excited, you are a little bit anxious. If you think about riding a roller coaster, that can create anxiety. It can create excitement, but it may not be the same for you. And if it's not the same for you, what I would probably do is explore with you first, if we were trying to get through anxiety, what are some other emotions that feel similar in your body that might not necessarily be negative, that may be positive or neutral? Right. Because then what you can do is you can negotiate with your body, with yourself, by saying, okay, I'm feeling anxious, but how can I look at this from a perspective or change my wording? Even as soon as I call it anxious, it's anxious. But what else could it be? What else could anxiety be?

Darius: Yeah.

Erica: Uh, you might be able to say, oh, well, anxiety could be something to do with curiosity.

Darius: Okay. Uh, so you basically reword it to say, I'm actually quite excited to solve this problem or to face this, or to solve this, or to get this behind me or whatever. You flip it that way. Okay, I've got you. Right? It's a bit like NLP really approach there. Like taking a positive experience and attaching it to a behavior that you maybe have a negative experience of, but it then turns it positive and you're more willing to repeat it.

Erica: Or you can even take something that's a real tragedy, like getting cancer. I had cancer in my thirty s. And if you were to ask me now, and maybe even at that point, how can you flip this? Yeah, well, it's a warning. It was a warning that I needed to live my life differently, that I needed to take better care of myself. I needed to change my diet. I needed to do some changes. So I think no matter how terrible a situation can be, you can always say, okay, how can I flip this?

Darius: How can I like that?

Erica: How can I find the gem in this difficulty?

Darius: I think I've got the answer for myself in this example where, uh, maybe I've got some health problems. My father died a month ago. It caused a great deal of anxiety and stress in my body, et cetera. And now I'm feeling it in my body, and it's affected my health, my underlying health. And so there's a degree of anxiety there because you're like, oh, if I don't do something about this, I'm going to get into trouble in the next 510 years because I know where this is going. But now I think I've done that and turned it to excitement in terms of, I'm excited about taking control of my diet, taking control of my exercise and health and my physical strength and flexibility and things like that. So, for me, that's an example. Thanks for sharing that.

Erica: Yeah, I like that. That's such a beautiful flip.

Darius: So how we're talking about gamification here, the thing about this is we've been talking a lot in the abstract here. Erica, one of the things I like about what you've done with gamification is you really have taken a lot of these things and done the hard work of figuring out how to gamify it. So, if you don't mind, do you mind us just drilling into some of the games that you've done and give it as an example and sort of talk us through what you're thinking as an educationalist and as a game’s designer and as an executive function coach with that game, which might not be obvious on, um, the face of it. Could you give us an example for each of these working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility, please?

Erica: Sure. And I do. I have a lot of games, and what I can do is I can give you an example, maybe, of one from each, knowing that I have quite a few, a lot in this realm, but also that, uh, some of my games aren't necessarily specifically executive functioning. You, uh, were describing my following directions, the fun and easy way, which really helps people with language-based learning and vocabulary, and also brings in spatial skills and all sorts of things, but really listening skills, and even gets into how to make sense of multiple-choice tests that are constantly changing from a negative to a positive and stuff like that. But that also does address working memory.

Darius: Yes, because often they're trying to trick your working memory by putting in lots of steps and, um, reversals and so on, which is I got to remember this, got to remember that, got to remember this, and I've got to remember that. And then you drop the ball on one of them and you get it wrong.

Erica: Right. And many of those games kind of unite. Sometimes they work with the higher-level executive functions, which is the planning, time management, organization, setting goals, problem solving, reasoning. And other times, it's a little bit of each of these, but I do have some very specific ones that work on each of these. I'll give you one example for working memory. These, uh, were really fun to create. I call it the visualization game. And I created in Canva all these images that were kind of a collage. It looks like it's kind of telling a story, but it's really bizarre things. All kind of almost Dali-esque, but a little bit more concrete than that. And so all these strange things are happening in this image. You look at it for a minute, and then the image is taken away. And then you have to answer questions about the image. But before you do that, there's a distractor. It's usually a Tongue twister. So that, uh, you're not thinking about the image, you're not kind of using your inner voice to hold it. In other words, I'm distracting their working memory for a moment. So it's not instant depiction of what they saw. And then you get points based on whether you get those questions right or not. And some of them are general, some of them are more detail oriented, but the more you play, the better you get at, uh, visualizing. And within the game, there are different strategies that you can use. And you pick a strategy. When you look at the image, it might be that you speak it. So you might actually say each of the different things that you're looking at out loud. But there are four different options. Another option is, forget what I call it, uh, five and five. For 5 seconds, you keep your eyes open, and you look at the image, and for 5 seconds, you close your eyes, and you visualize kind of that afterimage that you get. And then you open your eyes again, and you might notice something very different the second time. And then you close your eyes. But it's interesting, there's been quite a bit of research done on that, which is why I integrated that into the game. That, for example, that visualization can improve quite a bit when you give yourself that image and then take the image away because it kind of allows the brain to process. Right. And then you turn it back on again.

Darius: Can we just pause at that stage? Okay, yeah.

Erica: That's one game.

Darius: That's just one game. And we could do a podcast on every single game. It's just incredible. But if we take that one game, for example.

Erica: Mhm.

Darius: We're concentrating on working memory. You've got 1 minute to remember as much of that image as possible in some way or another. Afterwards you've got questions on it. And so when you point at, uh, a picture and use that strategy and you say something, you're engaging your phonological loop, you're speaking it out during it. And we've talked about the phonological loop being you say a word and it sits in your working memory as a loop of a word being said over and over again. So you're activating that phonological loop, but then you're wanting to get rid of that word. So you need to log it somewhere and remember it somewhere. So you can go to the next one and actually the act of pointing at it, saying skyscraper. And then you know that you got to point to the next thing, cat, you've got to put the skyscraper somewhere and let go of it. So your cats, you're not just fixating on the first few things, you're forcing your working memory to empty and move to the next thing. It's fascinating that you've built in that discipline just into one little game where 1 minute, and that's just one aspect of training the working memory, let alone there's 5 seconds watch and 5 seconds.

Erica: Right. What you're doing is you're exercising the different tools in working memory.

Darius: Yes.

Erica: And then what happens is over time, the kid’s kind of find the one that works best for them.

Darius: Yes, it's brilliant. I mean, it's a form of that five second on, five second off is like a form of space repetition and active learning. Space repetition is when you choose to let go of something and then you repeat it. You choose to let go of it, and you repeat it. And normally you repeat one day later, seven days later, 21 days later, one month later, and it goes into a long-term memory. But here we're seeing in micro, you're looking at it and choosing to let go of it and recreate it in your imagination. And so you lose the memory within those 5 seconds. But then when you open your mind up again and look at it for the next 5 seconds, you're actively making new pathways and you're having to let go and start. It's incredible, brilliant. Love it.

Erica: Thank you. So another one is they have to create a story, which then creates a spatial path for them through the image, which is another spatialization. Yes. So that's a really good one for working memory. I do have plenty of other ones, but. Inhibitory control.

Darius: Hold on a minute. What's that one called, Erica?

Erica: That's called the visualization game, and you can find it at good sensory learning.

Darius: All right, we'll put, uh, a, uh, link in the show notes before, but.

Erica: My favorite part about that game is super silly images, which gives them a little bit of a dopamine burst before they start, so they get a giggle. And if they got a giggle, then actually their memory is going to work better. What's another one? Inhibitory control. Let's see. I kind of did with the emotional regulation one, and we talked about a few of those.

Darius: Yeah, could you please talk about one of those, because they're really interesting. You get kids in schools to play this together sometimes, and some of those are really interesting. I know you've done so many, you kind of take them for granted. Maybe, but could you just dive down into one of those?

Erica: Yeah, I have quite a few. In fact, I have a whole publication which is executive functioning games in the classroom, and they all hit on all of these different things, and every game then tells you what you're strengthening. And there are quite a few of the emotional regulation ones where, again, it might be acting out emotions, it might be naming emotions, it might be discussing emotions or what they look like.

Darius: You say that so glibly, Erica, but when it comes to designing the game, that something different happens. So just talk us through, like, a worksheet a teacher will give it that you've designed to do a particular emotional regulation game, like acting out the emotions. How would you teach?

Erica: I have a very specific formula that I want people to follow. I want to follow, uh, just a dialogue. I don't have the dialogue in front of me, but basically what I'm looking at is I want to answer the why? Why is this going to help? What is it? Why is this going to help, and how does this, uh, affect my life? So we answer that right in the beginning.

Darius: I don't get that. Give us the context. So is this for the teacher or is this for the child?

Erica: This is actually for both of them.

Darius: Okay.

Erica: But it's mostly for the student. So you're going to tell them what it is, what they're going to be doing. So say they're doing snap and clap.

Darius: Okay.

Erica: Uh, so snap and clap. Is one of the simplest games. And you tell them that you're going to be learning to follow my directions, and you're going to be matching a sequence of movements. And then you tell them why this is important because you have to learn how to follow directions in school and your parents’ directions. And this will help you to be more successful in life. I think about it a little bit more than I am right now and make it a little bit more enticing for them. And then talk about more of the direct application to life. And then I give them a demonstration of the game. And then the games start off very simple, and then they get progressively more difficult when they're done with the game. They have discussion-based questions about, what was the game like for you? What did you like about it? How can you apply this to the real-world type questions? And then there are ways to make the game more complicated. There's a whole list of things that you can do to make snap and clap into snap, clap, jump, or snap, clap, jump, sneeze, whatever. And it's a matter in that particular one, they're having to match the pattern that you're making. So its pattern oriented. Fantastic. Requires a lot of attentional skills.

Darius: Yes. And that from the designer's point of view, you as an executive function designer of the game are basically saying inhibitory control is about muting out all of the other distractions and concentrating on the one particular thing. And in that case, it's concentrating on what the teacher is saying in terms of directions rather than what your friends fidgeting on or this other person in the classroom.

Erica: Um, right. And you're getting the kids prepared to do the activities.

Darius: Yeah. What I love about that is, Eric, you take all of these things for granted sometimes, but I know we've spent lots of time talking about that separately. That game, for example, and this is just one sheet on a whole page of different building up exercises for executive function. But the fascinating thing in that one sheet is you've actually introduced metacognition.

Erica: Yes.

Darius: Into the exercise with the children. So you're saying to the child, instead of saying, we're going to play Simon says, which is a similar game about inhibitory control. But instead of teaching inhibitory control by saying, you do what I say, you're then introducing, we're going to play this game so that you get even better at, uh, following directions, that when you're an adult, you're going to have to learn to give directions, and you're going to have to learn to follow directions. And so you need to understand how this all works. And don't you want to do that? Oh, yes, I want to do that. So we're going to play this game to do that. And they go, oh, great. And they're learning the process of metacognition, stepping back, and understanding why I'm playing this game, why I'm doing this. Uh, that's just brilliant. And that's beautiful.

Erica: Thank you.

Darius: And that is executive function on multiple layers.

Erica: It is. And it comes in at the end of the game, too. And so many people that do my games, I say to them, it's so important that you do the beginning and the end. Those are the two most important parts where you get their interest and commitment and excitement, and then afterwards, you get the direct application to life. How could you use this in life? How could this help you in life? What is this like? That's really beautiful. And the fun thing about the gamification, all of this, and particularly executive functioning, it works with all ages and it's incredibly good for the elderly. I mean, one of the things that I want to do this year is start to take a lot of these games and make them applicable to elder care because, uh, it's the last thing to develop. And one of the first things to go as we get older. And if we're exercising our executive functions, if you don't use it, you lose. It is all about executive functions. And so going into elder care and doing these group activities, and I'll tell you right now, when you do them as a group activity, it's hilarious. It is absolutely hilarious, and it's really fun. And I find that most of them tend to do those games independently. They're not getting up and out of their seats and doing games together as much. And, uh, it's going to be great for building community.

Darius: I think another way of looking at executive function and gamification is to maybe look at a game through the prism of executive function. So you could look at a normal game that you're playing. You're playing Monopoly. Yeah, so I'm playing Monopoly and we're just playing a game. But, uh, let's apply this metacognitive approach that you were doing this Simon Says-type activity, but you've brought it to another level by bookending it with these metacognitive moments, reflective moments at the beginning to set things up and at the end. So you've got the game monopoly. Okay? And, uh, let's compare the game Monopoly with Cash Flow. Okay? Now, Cash Flow is a game like Monopoly. But it's very intentionally set up for you to know that you're not just playing Monopoly, but you're learning how to read a cash flow statement. And that, uh, even the score sheet looks like a cash flow statement that you would see on a business. And what's the incomes and outgoing, what's the capital and what the liabilities are the four main segments. And it's set up like that. So Monopoly is, oh, I'm just playing an, uh, investing type game. Cash Flow is trying to very intentionally. And even the fact that you're paying $200 for it is like you're not just playing a game, you are role playing what it means to. You're investing, investing in role playing a whole life. So you're given a card which says, for example, you are an airline pilot. This is how much you spend on travel. This is how much you spend on your children going to private school. And these are all your list of expenditures. These are the loans that you've taken out. You got a list of all your outgoings, and then you think, oh, great, I'm an airline pilot. I've got a big salary coming in. But then you've got all these expenditures and you're like, um, oh, my goodness, this is a bit of a problem. And your goal with Cash Flow at the end is to get extra investments from properties, from businesses and stocks and shares, and reduce your liabilities and increase your income so that you get out of the rat race and stop being the airline pilot. And all your investments end up, meaning you get out of the rat race into the outer ring, where you just become an investor. That's the goal of it. And there he's very intentionally made a, uh, metacognition game, really not executive function. And I'm just wondering how many other games that we are instinctively attracted to that are training, uh, executive function type games.

Erica: I think most games are unless they're kind of rewarding impulsivity. There are those games where if you just hit the button as fast as you can and you just blow up the spaceships, that's actually almost creating poor skills of processing. But, uh, I think that a lot of them do. I mean, some kind of general games that I really like that work on executive functioning are set. Set is a really great organizational game. Blink is another one that I really like. I just found this one. I haven't played it yet, but it looked really interesting. It's called taco cat, goat cheese pizza. And, uh, it develops a lot of cognitive flexibility. Any kind of memory matching game Scategories. Quitch is another one, which I don't think they produce anymore, but you can usually buy it secondhand, which is a really good one. But yeah, so I have executive functioning activities library on my site, learning specialist courses, which offers a whole slew of different activity games or task cards that develop executive functioning. Then of course, I have the, it's called E-Fun games for the classroom or groups, which is also at learning specialist courses. I think there are 28 different games within there. But I do. I have a whole slew of reading games that were created for Orton Gillingham reading. That's at good sensory learning. But I do. I just have this huge library of games and I'm working right now with somebody on digitizing. And, um, the biggest problem is figuring out which one to do first. I am really struggling, but yeah, I have other ones like, hey, what's the big idea? Which is a sorting game. I was just working on a game this morning, which is a grid-based sorting game. But yeah, at good sensory learning, I have a lot of games, but learning specialist courses. I have kind of these compilations of games that can be played online and then I have these group games that you can access them online and then you can play them in groups. So it's never ending. I love creating games. I think that's probably what I was meant to do.

Darius: Yeah, you are such a great pedagogical gamifier. What you're doing is you're not just creating games that, uh, intentionality about we're doing this, and I know exactly why we're doing this, because it's going to strengthen that. We're then going to do this. And, um, I know exactly why, because it's strengthening the other thing, et cetera, step by step. And a lot of things, even just that experience during this podcast where he said, oh, yeah, we do this, emotional regulation games and so on, inhibitory control games and so on. And you just kind of generally talked about it, but when you break it down into the actual step by steps, you go, that's when the oh my goodness, oh my God. Moment happens where you're like, right. This is the level of intentionality that really gamifies executive function.

Erica: I do a lot of research, so I love going into the literature and going back and seeing the research and what are the different activities that can be done that strengthen different cognitive processing areas. So I have a number of games that are to develop working memory, too, that integrate the Stroop effect, which is very much of a research-based concept, for example, it has to do with if the word is spelled green, but it is red, is very, very tricky for the brain. And so I have a number of games that integrate the Stroop Effect in them. So I really enjoy going back into the research and seeing what they are doing as activities that are proven to strengthen these different cognitive areas. And then I say, okay, how can I gamify it?

Darius: Yes.

Erica: So that's my approach to a lot of this stuff. And then it's a matter of getting feedback from people too, to make sure that the activities are fun and engaging. And the fun thing about digitizing this is that we can have leaderboards, we can have people then playing against each other. We can bring in the concept of time. If somebody needs to increase their processing speed, they just need to increase their time. So we can start to exercise things like ran, which is rapid, automatic naming, which is really difficult for some people. But again, if it's gamified, that's going to be really fun.

Darius: Yeah. So why have we had this podcast? I'd like to sum that up a little bit. And I think that we can see that gamification is really an important aspect of simulating life and like a, uh, flight simulator for different skills and activities. And you can create these flight simulator environments for working memory. And essentially, working memory is about learning how to get stuff done or getting stuff done and achieving your goals and dreams and aspirations, rather than it is passing you by. Um, that's what inhibitory control is about. Cognitive flexibility, working memory, et cetera, and looking out for those opportunities for executive function moments where they're either intentionally created, like Eric has done with your educational games, or we're just instinctively attracted to, uh, it, like monopoly or cash flow or whatever other games, card games, all of these involve aspects of working memory, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility. Boy, we haven't really talked about cognitive flexibility in playing games. How many people playing a multiplayer game, cognitive flexibility comes in? I'll give you an example. Eight-year-old child playing a game of monopoly or whatever, and bursts out crying because they should have won. But there's this dissonance between you've just lost, but you believe that you are God, and you win at, uh, everything that you choose to do, but that's not the reality of life. And so you have to adjust and cognitively adapt to this reality. And children are going through that all the time, and even the rules of soccer or whatever. Oh, we're just playing this and we're doing that and you're like, no, you can't change the rules. These are the rules. Inhibitory control. This is what we're sitting doing. Or cognitive flexibility. And that, no, I'm going to change the rules because this is what I want. You're like, no, you can't change the rules. These are the rules. Or you're out. And they're like, no, I don't want that. And that's cognitive flexibility being m trained.

Erica: Yeah. I mean, I think we're all at a point in our lives when we cried when we didn't win. Right. But what better way to learn about that when you're playing a game, right?

Darius: Absolutely.

Erica: So learning all of these skills when you're playing a game is a beautiful thing. And I really encourage families to play a lot of games. It builds, uh, community, it builds cooperation, it builds executive functioning skills. So much so, yeah, games are the way to go. I don't play enough games. Well, I create a ton of games, but I need to play more games. I do like to have people over for game night. I should do that more.

Darius: And even, I suppose, often we think of games as for children. But I think it has to be emphasized here that we're not just talking about for children. And you said something which was, executive function is the last developmental skill to mature and the first one to go. And often people don't realize that your executive function ability is still in development into your early 20s, when so many other things, physically and so on and mentally, have come to most of their development earlier, but you're still developing in your executive function skills into your m mid 20s, aren't you?

Erica: And technically, you can develop them at any time in your life. If you have a poor working memory and you want it to be stronger, there are things that you can do. There are strategies that Darius or I can teach you that will completely flip it. Shall we?

Darius: Absolutely. Absolutely. So it's kind of like, I think of the growth, developmental growth, as what is the automatic growth that happens? And then after that, we've got that sort of intentional choice.

Erica: Yeah. That conscious, we can consciously take, uh, it another level.

Darius: Yeah. And I'm thinking about these when you're an adult, for example, playing a game with a child, and I'm a teacher, ex teacher, still teacher. I suppose games are so important for parenting, for relationships, because, again, it's this flight simulator of real life in this little game. How are you on a meta level, higher level executive functions? How are you going to organize? How are you going to plan? How are you going to manage when you're going to play something, or are you going to do everything all at once, or are you going to space yourself out? Have you set yourself goals? Like, if you're playing settlers of Catan, for example, have you ever played that game?

Erica: I haven't. I've heard about it. I've heard about it.

Darius: It's a big, popular board game, but you've got to set yourself goals. I'm going to get Mayfair, uh, or Oxford Street, or get all the greens, or I'm going to. It's goal setting, its strategy, problem solving. These are all higher-level functions that are happening, and I think even higher to that is executive function on an emotional level, too. So some people have said, if you want to go into business with someone, go play golf with them. And some of the reasons why businessmen often go and play golf is you can tell a lot about a person's character by the way they play a game. And if that person is cheating or that person is negotiating in a sort of very hardheaded, me way, you reveal a lot about who you are as a person in the way that you play a game. So you can actually learn a lot about a person by playing a game with them.

Erica: And I guess all the more reason to start playing games now, so that we can learn to be the best player even within life.

Darius: Yes, absolutely.

Erica: What a great way to wrap up this episode.

Darius: Yeah, great episode. Executive function and gamification. Fantastic, Erica, for bringing that, uh, to us because that's your real area of expertise.

Erica: Thank you, Darius. Until next time.

Darius: Till next time.

Erica: Thank you for joining our conversation here at the personal Brain trainer podcast. This is Dr. Erica Warren and, um, Darius Namdaran.

Darius: Check out the show notes for links to resources mentioned in the podcast, and please leave us a review and share us on social media until next time. Bye.