Video games have been said to make people both more violent and more stupid. But new research is showing that video games do have positive impacts on the brains of gamers.
They Increase the Size of Your Brain!
German scientists at the Max Planck Institute released a study suggesting that playing video games literally increases the size of your brain.
In their study, which was published in a 2013 issue of Molecular Psychiatry, participants were asked to play Super Mario 64 30 minutes a day for two months. Oh, and participants were also asked to allow the researchers to take pictures of their brains before and after the study.
Now if German scientists started asking me questions about my brain, I would likely take the next train out of Bavaria, but I have been prejudiced by repeated childhood viewings of Frankenstein. Luckily, study participants showed more pluck than I, and consented to the pictures. And what the researchers discovered is gob-smacking.
Playing Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day increased the size of the participants’ brains. When compared to a control group, the scientists discovered the video game-playing participants had “significant gray matter increase in right hippocampal formation, right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and bilateral cerebellum in the training group.”
These are the areas of the brain responsible for spatial navigation, memory formation, strategic planning, and fine motor skills.
Study leader Simone Kuhn said, “While previous studies have shown differences in brain structure of video gamers, the present study can demonstrate the direct causal link between video gaming and a volumetric brain increase. This proves that specific brain regions can be trained by means of video games.” Which means that video games could even be used as therapy in the future.
Numerous ailments, from Alzheimers to PTSD, involve shrunken or smaller structures in the brain. This study suggests that video games may one day be used as a treatment for them.
And video games are already being used by scientists to treat certain conditions…
Video Games: Wonder Drug?
In an article in The American Journal of Play which has been decoded for the layman by Psychology Today, researchers Adam Eichenbaum, Daphne Bavelier, and C. Shawn Green summarize the current state of research on the positive impact of video games on players. And there are a number of real-world impacts which go beyond the hand-eye coordination which has so often been trotted out in the past.
Death to Lazy Eye!
Video games have been proven to almost cure lazy eye. Amblyopia or “lazy eye” is a condition in which one eye essentially stops working. In a 2011 study, a researcher had one group of lazy eye patients cover their good eye and play video games, while other lazy eye patients covered their good eye and engaged in tasks such as knitting and watching TV. The video game group showed vast improvements, with some eyes gaining normal or near normal functioning, while the other group saw no benefits.
Action Video Games Help Dyslexics’ Test Scores
Video games have shown promise in treating dyslexia. Some forms of dyslexia seem to stem from a lack of “visual attention” or inability to properly decode letters. Italian researchers in 2013 had participants with dyslexia play 12 hours of action video games, and then take a reading test. Their improvements on the test matched those of dyslexics who participated in reading regimens designed to improve dyslexics’ reading abilities.
In other words, playing a video game was as effective as the current therapeutic treatment, and likely more fun. While this is only one study, it certainly shows promise.
While much work remains to be done, video games are clearly showing promise as a therapeutic tool for use in the medical field, as well as an instrument for improving our brains themselves.
Considering that video games have been scorned as a pastime, and dismissed as a corrupting influence on players, these new studies offer intriguing evidence suggesting that video games do not merely give you a good time, but make you better.
Do you think video games have made you smarter? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature image courtesy Nintendo.
Other image courtesy The Brain.