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Enhancing reading skills through a video game mixing action mechanics and cognitive training

An Author Correction to this article was published on 13 May 2022

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In modern societies, training reading skills is fundamental since poor-reading children are at high risk of struggling both at school and in life. Reading relies not only on oral language abilities but also on several executive functions. Considering their importance for literacy, training executive functions—particularly, attentional control has been suggested as a promising way of improving reading skills. For this reason, we developed a video game-based cognitive intervention aimed at improving several facets of executive functions. This game is composed of mini-games that apply gamified versions of standard clinical exercises linked through a game environment with action video game dynamics. Here, in a study involving 151 typically reading children, we demonstrated that after this general-domain behavioural intervention reading abilities, as well as attentional and planning skills, were significantly improved. Our results showed that training attentional control can translate into better reading efficiency, maintained at a follow-up test 6 months later.

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Fig. 1: Skies of Manawak mini-games and targeted EF/attentional skills.
Fig. 2: Combined performance on the word, non-word and text reading assessments: speed and accuracy.
Fig. 3: Reading errors: sounding-out behaviours and word substitutions.
Fig. 4: Performance in the barrage task (attentional control) and the Tower of London task (planning).
Fig. 5: Distribution of academic grades (out of a maximum of ten) in Italian for children of the two groups (SOM and control) at five time points.

Data availability

Behavioural data, analysis code and study materials have been deposited in Open Science Framework with the identifier: (

Code availability

Code for figures and analyses of behavioural data are available from the corresponding author on request.

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We thank A. Siesser for his invaluable contribution to the design and development of SOM, as well as B. Meuleman and S. Cekic for their invaluable help with statistical issues. We thank the Italian Ministry for University and Research for their support of A.d.A. through the project ‘La Città Educante’ PON 2007-2013; we thank the Marie Curie Grant (no. 661667, Learning Determinants) for their support of I.A., the NCCR Evolving Language as well as the Klaus J. Jacobs Foundation for their support of D.B. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



Z.M., A.P., A.d.A. and P.V. contributed to the design of the video game. A.P. and P.V. designed the experiment. I.A. and D.B. provided advice on the experimental design. A.P. contributed and supervised the data collection. A.P., I.A. and D.B. performed the data analyses and wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript. This study constitutes part of A.P.’s PhD thesis under the supervision of P.V.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Angela Pasqualotto or Daphne Bavelier.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

D.B. is founding member and on the scientific board of Akili Interactive, Boston. A.P., Z.M. and D.B. have filled a patent which protects some of the mechanics of the video game SOM. The other authors declare no competing interests.

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Nature Human Behaviour thanks the anonymous reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Means and standard deviations at T1 of neuropsychological measures for the two groups (SOM and Control).

All the variables are expressed in z-scores with the exception of reading errors [that is, number of errors over the total number of enunciated words (*100)] aχ2-score, bF-score; *sig. α = 0.05.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Demographic and IQ characteristics (Means, SD) of SOM group and Control group prior to intervention (T1).

The two groups were carefully matched for Sex, Chronological Age, full IQ. aχ2-score,bF-score; *sig. α = 0.05.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Section 1—Tables 1–8; Section 2— results and Fig. 1; Section 3—test batteries; Section 4—errors classification; Section 5—training regimens and Fig. 2; and Section 6—references.

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Pasqualotto, A., Altarelli, I., De Angeli, A. et al. Enhancing reading skills through a video game mixing action mechanics and cognitive training. Nat Hum Behav 6, 545–554 (2022).

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