Dissertation Title and Summary

How Cognitive Abilities Enhance and Are Enhanced by Playing the Video Game Tetris

Video games have become ubiquitous with more people playing video games on their phones,
computers, or designated game consoles for hours on end. For some, playing video games is a competitive sport attracting people from across the world to battle it out online. These games include
League of Legends, Overwatch and Tetris. It is therefore now more important than ever to understand the relationship between playing video games and different aspects of cognition such as processing speed (reaction time), memory, and attention.

My dissertation research question is: Are people born with cognitive abilities that enable them to be good at video games or do people improve on their cognitive abilities the more they play video games? Some of the results from this research will be presented at the upcoming 2021 Cognitive Science Conference in a peer-reviewed paper titled, Need for Speed: Applying ex-Gaussian modeling techniques to examine intra-individual reaction time variability in expert Tetris players. This research
paper shows that playing the video game Tetris is associated with faster reaction times and
better attention control. My future research will focus on designing video game
training interventions for individuals on extreme ends of the expertise continuum to provide
insight into the cognitive mechanisms and abilities responsible for skilled behavior in video games.


Ropafadzo Denga is a doctoral student in the Cognitive Science department at
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Her research explores the cognitive mechanisms
and abilities involved or responsible for skilled behavior in video games, particularly the video
game Tetris. Ropa earned her Master’s degree in Cognitive Science also from Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute and her Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Spelman College. As an undergraduate student, she earned the Andrew Young comprehensive
four-year international scholarship for academic excellence, a Lockheed Martin Award, and the
prestigious Apple HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) Scholar Award. As a graduate student, Ropa earned the 2021 Diversity and Inclusion Award that comes with a cash prize of $1000 for her submission to the Cognitive Science Conference. She also studied abroad at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. A computer scientist by training, Ropafadzo has conducted research and professional internships at organizations such as Educational Testing Service (ETS), Microsoft (Bangalore India), Apple, Cummins, and volunteered with Emergination Africa.