the neuroscience of video games

I bet you have heard about these so-called brain games (luminosity for example) and wondered if these things enhance your brain and cognitive ability.

I am inclined to say that they don’t give you the desired results because of the so-called “file drawer effect”: studies revealing brain games positive effects on cognitive abilities have higher chances to be published rather than those with negligible results, misleading the overall picture of the situation, so take of that what you will.

The Neuroscience Of Video Games

As you read in the title Video Games are being researched more and more, and the results we get are astonishing and at least for me great news since it justifies this guilty pleasure of mine.

We all know that board games like chess are beneficial.

  • A few benefits of Chess:
  • exercises both sides of the brain
  • “Raises your IQ” (questionable IMO)
  • Helps to prevent Alzheimer’s
  • Increases problem-solving skills
  • Teaches planning and foresight
  • Improves Memory

Sadly, chess and the likes are not being played as much these days and the support of games like that became less as well. That might be because of their reputation that it is for nerds and only smart people play it but the same is aid about video games.

Anyway, lets focus on the video games and what the studies found out.

Video Games

Video game experience leads gamers to possess perceptual and cognitive skills far beyond those observed in non-gamers.

Yep, you read that right. The thing most people in the self-improvement realm shit on is quite beneficial for you and your brain.

Games like Starcraft an RTS (Real Time Strategy) game enhances your cognitive flexibility (that is the ability to allocate the brain’s resources under changing circumstances).

Other studies show that FPS (first person shooters) enhance your grey matter, and they can alter the neural processes that underlie spatial selective attention, representing an effective training tool for improving a range of attentional and perceptual abilities.

That begs the question: How often and how long should you play these games to get the best result?

How to use video games as cognitive training tools

As I mentioned before there are distinct differences on how video games can affect your brain. Each genre has a different influence on you. But as far as we know right now RTS games and FPS games both enhance your brain in different ways and playing as little as 10-20 hours a week will yield positive results over long periods of time.

This training offers the possibility to promote learning and prevent cognitive decline. In many experimental paradigms, video games are being used in order to enhance cognitive functioning. So gaming can be seen as an intense training of many diverse skills.

As mentioned before as little as 10-20 hours of video game training improves the performance on attentional, perceptual and executive tasks.

In another study conducted by Kühn et al. (2014), participants played Super Mario for a period of two months for at least half an hour per day.

We all know Super Mario I assume. You navigate the Italian plumber through a virtual world and gather items. And here’s the interesting part! Compared to the control group, the training group showed a significant grey matter augmentation in the right hippocampus, right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and bilateral cerebellum.

These results suggest that video game training increases GM volume in regions crucial for spatial navigation, strategic planning, working memory and motor performance.

One assumption that underlies all these training paradigms is that the skills learnt during these tasks will transfer to other untrained tasks and, potentially, to daily life situations.

Considering all of that, the video game approach provides a good clinical tool for people that suffer from cognitive deficits. 

Presenting stimulation through games and tasks is also likely to be generally more accepted and entertaining compared to other types of interventions.

Final Thoughts

Altough video games are a fantastic tool to have fun and train your brain I’d still suggest to use some of the traditional tools for preserving cognitive functioning: ask questions and why a lot, read books, be socially engaged and maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Play away and thanks for reading!

Let me know what games you play in the comments below.

P.S. If you liked this post then you’ll like my books as well. You can get them on Amazon.