Playing Video Games Can Change your Brain

A new review of more than 100 studies shows that playing video games can cause changes in the regions of the brain responsible for attention and visuospatial skills and make them more efficient.

Researchers also looked at studies exploring brain regions associated with the reward system, and how these are related to video game addiction.

“Games have sometimes been praised or demonized, often without real data backing up those claims. Moreover, gaming is a popular activity, so everyone seems to have strong opinions on the topic,” said Marc Palaus, first author on the review, recently published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Palaus and his colleagues at the Cognitive NeuroLab at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, wanted to see if any trends had emerged from the research to date on how video games affect the structure and activity of our brains. To do this, they collected the results from 116 scientific studies, 22 of which looked at structural changes in the brain and 100 that looked at changes in brain functionality and/or behavior.

The studies show that playing video games can change how our brains perform and even their structure.

For example, playing video games affects our attention, and some studies found that gamers show improvements in several types of attention, such as sustained attention or selective attention. The brain regions involved in attention are also more efficient in gamers and require less activation to sustain attention on demanding tasks, according to researchers.

There is also evidence that video games can increase the size and efficiency of brain regions related to visuospatial skills. For example, the right hippocampus was enlarged in both long-term gamers and volunteers following a video game training program, researchers noted.

Video games can also be addictive. Researchers have found functional and structural changes in the neural reward system in gaming addicts, in part by exposing them to gaming cues that cause cravings and monitoring their neural responses. These neural changes are basically the same as those seen in other addictive disorders, according to the researchers.

But what do all these brain changes mean?

“We focused on how the brain reacts to video game exposure, but these effects do not always translate to real-life changes,” Palaus said. “As video games are still quite new, the research into their effects is still in its infancy. For example, we are still working out what aspects of games affect which brain regions and how.”

However, he said it is likely that video games have both positive aspects — on attention, visual and motor skills — and negative aspects such as the risk of addiction.

“It is essential we embrace this complexity,” he concluded.

Source: Frontiers