Video Games Affect Brain Function

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Video Games Affect Brain Function

Father playing video games with son
Studies indicate that some video games can improve cognitive function and visual attention. Hero Images/Getty Images

Video Games Affect Brain Function

Can playing certain video games affect brain function? Research studies suggest that there is a link between playing certain video games and improved decision making abilities and cognitive flexibility. There is an observable difference between the brain structure of individuals who play video games frequently and those who don't. Video gaming actually increases brain volume in areas responsible for fine motor skill control, the formation of memories, and for strategic planning. Video gaming could potentially play a therapeutic role in the treatment of a variety of brain disorders and conditions resulting from brain injury.

Video Games Increase Brain Volume

A study from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charité University Medicine St. Hedwig-Krankenhaus has revealed that playing real-time strategy games, such as Super Mario 64, can increase the brain's gray matter. Gray matter is the layer of the brain that is also known as the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex covers the outer portion of the cerebrum and cerebellum. Increases of gray matter were found to occur in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex, and cerebellum of those who played strategy type games. The hippocampus is responsible for forming, organizing, and storing memories. It also connects emotions and senses, such as smell and sound, to memories. The prefrontal cortex is located in the brain's frontal lobe and is involved in functions including decision-making, problem solving, planning, voluntary muscle movement, and impulse control. The cerebellum contains hundreds of millions of neurons for processing data. It helps to control fine movement coordination, muscle tone, balance, and equilibrium. These increases in gray matter improve cognitive function in specific brain regions.

Action Games Improve Visual Attention

Studies also indicate that playing certain video games can improve visual attention. A person's level of visual attention relies on the brain's ability to process relevant visual information and suppress irrelevant information. In studies, video gamers consistently outperform their non-gamer counterparts when performing visual attention related tasks. It is important to note that the type of video game played is a significant factor regarding visual attention enhancement. Games such as Halo, which require rapid responses and divided attention to visual information, increase visual attention, while other types of games do not. When training non-video gamers with action video games, these individuals showed improvement in visual attention. It is believe that action games could have applications in military training and therapeutic treatments for certain visual impairments.

Video Games Reverse Negative Effects of Aging

Playing video games is not just for kids and young adults. Video games have been found to improve cognitive function in older adults. These cognitive improvements in memory and attention were not only beneficial, but lasting as well. After training with a 3-D video game specifically designed to improve cognitive performance, the 60 to 85-year-old individuals in the study performed better than 20 to 30-year-old individuals playing the game for the first time. Studies such as this one indicate that playing video games can reverse some of the cognitive decline associated with increased age.

Video Games and Aggression

While some studies highlight the positive benefits of playing video games, others point to some of its potential negative aspects. A study published in a special issue of the journal Review of General Psychology indicates that playing violent video games makes some adolescents more aggressive. Depending on certain personality traits, playing violent games can elicit aggression in some teens. Teenagers who are easily upset, depressed, have little concern for others, break rules and act without thinking are more influenced by violent games than those with other personality traits. Personality expression is a function of the frontal lobe of the brain. According to Christopher J. Ferguson, a guest editor of the issue, video games "are harmless for the vast majority of kids but are harmful to a small minority with pre-existing personality or mental health problems." Teenagers who are highly neurotic, less agreeable, and less conscientious have a greater propensity to be negatively affected by violent video games.

Other studies suggest that for most gamers, aggression is not related to violent video content but to feelings of failure and frustration. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology demonstrated that failure to master a game led to displays of aggression in players regardless of video content. The researchers pointed out that games such as Tetris or Candy Crush can elicit as much aggression as violent games like World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto.

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