Playing video games causes volume increases in regions of the brain responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation and strategic planning, as well as fine motor skills, according to a new study.
Researchers said they believe the positive effects of video gaming could also play a part in therapeutic interventions for psychiatric disorders.
For their study, the researchers asked adults in Berlin to play the video game “Super Mario 64” for 30 minutes a day over a period of two months. A control group did not play video games.
Brain volume was quantified using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The researchers found that, in comparison to the control group, the gamers showed increases in grey matter. These increases were observed in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex and the cerebellum.
These brain regions are involved in functions such as spatial navigation, memory formation, strategic planning and fine motor skills of the hands, according to the researchers.
Most interestingly, according to the scientists, is that these changes were more pronounced in the participants who reported the most desire to play the video game.
“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,” said study leader Simone Kühn, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.
“This proves that specific brain regions can be trained by means of video games.”
This has led the researchers to assume that video games could be therapeutically useful for patients with mental disorders in which brain regions are altered or reduced in size, such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
“Many patients will accept video games more readily than other medical interventions,” noted co-author Jürgen Gallinat, M.D., a psychiatrist at Charité University Medicine St. Hedwig-Krankenhaus.
Further studies to investigate the effects of video gaming in patients with mental health issues are planned, the researchers reported. A study on the effects of video gaming in the treatment of PTSD is ongoing.