Neuropsychologists of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have just published a new study that shows video games are better for your brain than their reputation.
The paper “how video games improve probabilistic learning” studied 17 volunteers who played action-based games on the computer or a console for more than 15 hours a week.
The results of tests on these gamers showed significantly increased brain activity in the brain areas that are relevant for learning vs a control group of 17 volunteers who didn’t play video games on a regular basis.
Prof Dr Boris Suchan, Sabrina Schenk and Robert Lech report their findings in the journal Behavioural Brain Research.
The test worked by making participants undertake a “weather prediction task”. This is a well-established test to investigate how we learn probabilities. The team recorded the brain activity of the participants using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine.
The subjects were shown three cue cards. The combination of symbols on them predicted sun or rain. The idea is that they would gradually learn, based on the feedback of their initial guesses, the combinations that predicted the weather. Once the task was completed they would complete a survey about how they figured out the patterns.
Our study shows that gamers are better in analysing a situation quickly, to generate new knowledge and to categorise facts – especially in situations with high uncertainties… We think that playing video games trains certain brain regions like the hippocampus… That is not only important for young people, but also for older people; this is because changes in the hippocampus can lead to a decrease in memory performance. Maybe we can treat that with video games in the future.Study Author Sabrina Schenk
Analysis of these surveys showed that the group of gamers had acquired more knowledge about the meaning of the card combinations than the control group.
This type of learning has been linked to increased activity in the hippocampus. The region of the brain that plays a key role in learning and memory.
The results though should be taken with a pinch of salt. It could mean the people who naturally choose to play video games are simply better at these tests to start with. Or that people who enjoy learning complex operations and grappling with complex operations in games are less likely to turn away from video games compared to people who find these situations frustrating.
As games become ubiquitous it will become increasingly difficult for studies like these to be conducted as finding a non-gaming control group will become more difficult.
The study was conducted through the Collaborative Research Centre 874, which is currently funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) to investigate memory formation and sensory processing.