How video games can affect your brain
Video gaming is a very popular form of entertainment. In fact, video gamers spend 3 billion hours each week in front of their screens. Because of their widespread popularity, scientists have studied how video games can affect brain function and behaviour. These effects are positive or negative. We review the evidence.
Research is focusing on the effects of video games on the brain.
More than 150 million Americans play video games every week, for an average of 3 hours. American gamers are average age 35, with 72 per cent of those aged 18 and older. 71% of parents believe that video games are a positive influence in their child’s lives.
Year after year, video game sales are increasing. The video game industry sold over 24.5 billion games in 2016, up from 23.2 Billion in 2015 and 21.4 Billion in 2014.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Battlefield 1 were the three most popular video games of 2016. They accounted for 28 percent of total sales and 23 percent, respectively, of the top three. Action genres and first-person shooters are often accused of inciting aggression, violence, and addiction.
Scientists have not reached a consensus over decades of research on video gaming and violence. Scientists have not been able to establish a causal relationship between violence in real life and playing video games.
Video games and brain-changing video games
There is increasing evidence that video games can have a negative effect on the brain, and furthermore cause brain changes in various regions.
Gamers who are addicted to gaming experience structural and functional changes in their neural reward system.
Scientists recently compiled and summarized the results of 116 scientific studies in order to understand how video games affect our brains, behaviours, and brains. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience published the results of their review.
“Games are sometimes praised and demonized, but often without any data backing them up.” Marc Palaus, the first author of this review, says that gaming is a popular pastime, and everyone seems to have strong opinions about the topic.
Palaus and his team looked at all of the research that had been done to date to see if any trends were emerging in relation to video games’ effect on the brain’s structure and activity. The brain structure was examined in 22 studies, while 100 studies looked at brain function and behaviour.
The results of these studies show that video games can not only alter how our brains function but also change their structure.
Video games can affect attention, for example. According to the review, video game users show improvements in multiple types of attention including sustained attention and selective. The brain regions that are involved in attention are more efficient in gamers than in non-gamers and require less activation to keep focused on difficult tasks.
Evidence shows that video games increase the competence and size of brain regions responsible for visual and spatial skills. This is the ability to recognize spatial and visual relationships between objects. The right hippocampus was larger in long-term gamers than those who had participated in a videogame training program.
Researchers discovered that video gaming can lead to addiction, a phenomenon called “Internet gaming disorder.”
Gamers who are addicted to gaming experience functional and structural changes in their neural reward system. This is a group structure that is associated with learning, pleasure, motivation, and learning. These changes were also evident in other addictive disorders such as addiction.
Palaus notes that while we focused on the brain’s reaction to video games, these effects don’t always translate into real-life changes. Research into the effects video gaming has still not been completed. Scientists are still trying to determine how gaming affects which brain regions.
Palaus says, “It is likely that videogames have both positive aspects (on attention and visual skills), and it’s essential we embrace this complexity.”
Are brain-training games helpful?
Researchers from Florida State University have stated that it is important to be sceptical about advertisements that claim brain training games can improve brain performance. These claims are not supported by science, they said.
Brain-training games have not been shown to improve the cognitive abilities of older adults.
Wally Boot, associate psychologist and expert in age-related cognitive decline, says that “our findings and previous research confirm there’s very little evidence these types of games can improve your lives in a meaningful manner.”
Many people believe that brain-training apps can protect them from cognitive disorders or memory loss.
Researchers tried to determine if brain-training games could improve players’ working memory and other cognitive abilities such as reasoning and speed. However, the results were not convincing.
Neil Charness, a professor of psychology and an authority on cognition and ageing, says that it is possible to train people to be very proficient at tasks you might normally consider working memory tasks.
These skills are very specific and do not allow for a lot of transfer. Seniors should be particularly concerned about crossword puzzles. Will that help me remember my keys? He adds that the answer is likely no.
Charness suggests that aerobic exercise can be beneficial if you are trying to improve your cognitive function. Research has shown that aerobic exercise is more beneficial than mental activity for the brain.
Video games increase memory
A Nature study, however, found that cognitive performance in older adults could be improved by using a 3-D videogame. video games also reversed some of the negative effects of ageing on the brain.
Brain training can help reverse the effects of age-related brain decline.
Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF), clarify that this provides some scientific support for brain training – criticized because it lacks evidence – and that it can lead to meaningful and lasting improvements.
Study participants between 60 and 85 years old improved their performance on the game by 12 hours of training over a period of one month. This was in comparison to individuals who had just started playing the game for the very first time. Two other important cognitive areas were also improved: sustained attention and working memory. These skills were retained 6 months after the training was completed.
“The finding is a strong example of how plastic older brains are,” Dr Adam Gazzaley (UCSF associate professor, neurology, physiology, and psychiatry, and director of Neuroscience Imaging Center, says. Dr Gazzaley says it’s encouraging to see that even a small amount of brain training can reverse some brain declines associated with age.
Neurobiologists from the University of California-Irvine discovered that 3-D video games can also increase the formation of memories in a recent study. The participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups that used video games in a 2-D or 3-D environment. The students completed the 2 week-long games for 30 minutes each day and were then given memory tests to engage the brain’s cortex.
Comparing to the 2-D group, the memory scores of the participants in the 3-D group were significantly higher. Memory performance in the 3-D group increased by 12 per cent – which is about the same percentage that memory performance typically declines between 45 and 70.
Craig Stark from UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory says, “First, the 3-D video games have a few more things than the 2-D ones.” They have a lot more spatial information to explore. They are also more complex and have a lot more information. We know that this type of learning and memory stimulates the hippocampus.
Particularly strategy video games have been shown to improve brain function in older adults. They may also protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“If the goal is to improve older adults’ cognitive control, reasoning and higher-order cognition skills and stave off Alzheimer’s disease, then strategy games might be the best option,” Chandramallika Basak (assistant professor at the Center for Vital Longevity and the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at The University of Texas at Dallas) says.
Charness and Basak agree that cognitive training should be second to physical activity programs in order to improve cognitive function. Studies have shown that physical fitness programs can improve cognition, brain function and structure.
Video games can be used to treat mild cognitive impairment and depression.
This area of research is still being explored. Video games may have the potential to enhance cognitive ability and prevent cognitive disorders.