Apps and creativity

Some apps help us become smarter and more creative in strange and wonderful ways. Apps and games improve problem solving skills, brain processing speed, visual skills and memory.
This post is inspired by reading this article and here. Less interesting reading here,here, here.

Problem solving skills

It is understandable that playing strategy games we develop problem-solving skills, almost like playing chess. We need to make many small decisions in a controlled environment. The games are built in such a way that we get almost immediate gratification for any good decision we make. Transparency and immediate feedback strengthen dopamine connections in our brain. We get focused on the game, we enjoy it. When later in real life we meet similar problems, we activate the same connections. It is easier for us to solve some problems than for a person that does not play. Since most strategic games activate planning, resource allocation, and target selection, we are more likely to succeed in the tasks involving project management.

Reaction, processing speed

What is puzzling: the more active games also develop problem solving skills. Motor skills are connected to the most productive brain areas that are usually activated when we go into the “flow” state. When we play shooters, we feel energized because there is oxygen-rich blood flowing to our problem-solving parts of the brain so we can react in time.
Motor skills and reaction speed are connected. The brain does not simply react, it makes decisions. Improved reaction means faster decision making, which also means faster brain processing speed. This is like overclocking computer CPU: we can handle tasks faster, hence we can handle more tasks.

Multitasking is also improved. I do not know the mechanism involved, I just know the gamers score higher in multitasking test. Maybe this is because gamers often watch TV and do other activities while playing…


Gaming helps preserve cognitive skills when we age. People playing chess, bridge, sudoku etc are activating their brain and less likely to lose their cognitive abilities.

After giving birth my wife suffered cognitive deterioration. Basically, she could not remember stuff she used to remember effortlessly. She took her mobile device and started playing. After a month her skills returned to the baseline level. I do not know which part was gaming, which part was the placebo effect, and which stuff was natural recovery. I just know that gaming helped.

Visual skills and memory

Games improve visual skills and memory. When playing we need to monitor the entire device screen, and monitor it changing very fast. We need to remember all the relevant stats for each situation [this is equivalent to mindmap]. In many games, we need to remember the environment of the game as we pass between “rooms” [this is very much like mental palace].
The graphics in games is very colorful, and it helps us use color in our visualizations. We can also reuse the game scenarios for the things we need to remember. The games we love are so graphic, they are very easy to visualize.

It should be no surprise that gamers have better visual skills and memory skills. Arguably 3D games are better than 2D games.

Take heed anyone who fears the onset of (or is currently suffering from) dementia, or just wants to remember stuff better. A team of neurobiologists from the University of California have found that playing 3D computer games can boost memory power. They got a group of people to play 2D games half an hour a day for 2 weeks, and another group to play 3D games half an hour a day for 2 weeks. Everyone was given a memory test before and after the 2 weeks. The 2D group didn’t really improve at all, but the 3D group improved by 12%!. This might not seem like a whole lot but 12% is about the amount that memory performance decreases between the ages of 45 and 70. Previous studies have shown that exploration of a 3D environment promotes the growth of neurons, and can lead to increases in the size of the hippocampus. This is great news for gamers who can now keep a straight face when describing their Call of Duty sessions as ‘brain training’.

There are specific games for attention to details and focus. “Missing object”, “Find the difference”, “Quest room” games make us notice the details in the controlled environment.

When I was training superlearning skills I used to play a lot of computer games. Reading texts I used the same skills disappointed with reduced graphics. Then going outdoors the graphic was excellent. At some point, my memory and reading improved greatly, but I started to lose the difference between the imaginary and real worlds, so I stopped playing. It’s not like gaming is “all good”, you do need to find a balance.

Productivity and note taking

Personally, I do all of my note taking in google apps. I know this is a bit weird. I am an engineer and I love very organized environments.

Anna and Anthony Metivier prefer to take their notes physically on a piece of paper. They enjoy the contact with the physical world, and kinestatic memory involved in actually writing or drawing. Jonathan and many other young people use a combo of Evernote and Anki. Evernote or OneNote are great for dumping a lot of information from various sources and organizing it for future use. You can still add handwritten stuff. Anki is good for spaced repetitions of the information you need to remember.

The “ToDo” lists and mindmaps can also be very helpful for notetaking. Tipically, we use them in our productivity flow. Personally, I write things down, and then do not check them until the tasks are finished. The simple activity of listing the stuff and grouping tasks is sufficient for me to remember them. You can use your lists and mindmaps for your memory training.

There are specific apps to coach you and to remind you take Pomodoro breaks. Coaching apps are great until you “catch the idea”. Once you internalize the productive habit, you can easily dump the app.

There are also apps for mindfulness. These apps often include external devices for biofeedback. The best mindfulness apps feature immersion in virtual reality. Most new devices have virtual reality mode. You can use it for mindfulness, virtual traveling and other interesting visualizations.

Language skills

There are many apps for language learning, like Duolingo. Mobile devices are very good for writing in many languages since we cannot blind-type and the “keyboard” is fully configurable. You can translate papers, hear the word in a sentence, talk with a person from another country, add the word for spaced repetition and do other things from the same device.

There are more specialized apps for syntax learning, phonetic awareness, trivia word learning. If English is not your first language, or you want to improve your level, there are great apps for you to use.


There are apps with new feature all the time. I intentionally minimized mentioning of specific apps in the article. Please use comments to ask to updates and exchange information. I will also be active in the exchange.

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4 Replies to “Apps and creativity”

  1. Hi Lev: I took the path to enrolling in a learning center [WellSpring centers] near my home. There are 36 sessions one-on-one with a trainer to increase processing speed of mental math, phonetics, and other exercises. The program also comes with an on-line ‘games’ which one must do to continue acceleration to better /quicker learning. It was an expensive program – both cost-wise and time – and overall, I am glad I did it as it opened my eyes to habits which I learned growing up in Kenya. What apps do you recommend? My guess is there are so many out there targeted to different skill-sets [like math or language]. I’d appreciate your insights into some especially useful on-line games you and Anna enjoy. Many thanks and I always enjoy your posts.

  2. Hi Lev,

    Thanks for the article. Do you know any “spot the difference” game which is playable online (preferably offline)
    I am a big fan of Eagle Eye on Lumosity but I have never been able to find a similar game.

    Also, I think there is a nice in between for Note Taking with the use of smartpens which allows for note taking and transcribing which then can be stored on Evernote/OneNote

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