Do Video Games Change the Brain?

Parents frequently express concerns about the ways video games impact their children’s thinking and behavior. They often wonder if video games change the brains of their kids. Many studies suggest that the answer to this question is “absolutely, yes!”

Compelling evidence shows that playing video games can affect the brain in a positive way. Most of the data suggest that modest amounts of video gameplay can improve a variety of cognitive skills. The evidence is not just the opinion of so-called experts. Many studies use technology such as functional magnetic resonance resonance imaging (FMRIs) to demonstrate how gameplay alters the actual physical structure of the brain. There is also evidence indicating that moderate amounts of gameplay improve academic and social/emotional performance.

Some of the best research has been done by Daphne Bavelier and Shawn Green, who determined that playing action-based video games can improve processing speed and specific attention abilities. Cogmed founder Torkel Klingberg and his colleagues have demonstrated how video game play can improve working-memory skills and change the structure of the brain. Another recent study by Bejjanki and colleagues found that action video-game play improves perception, attention, and cognition.

Mark Griffith’s research describes how engaging aspects of video-game play stimulate the portions of the brain that make it easier to maintain undivided attention for longer periods of time. Therefore, video-game training may be a more appealing way to learn than some of the more traditional methods.

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A recent German study found that adults who played Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day for two months experienced a rise in grey matter in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex, and cerebellum. These are brain areas responsible for spatial navigation, memory, planning, and fine-motor skills. A study by Richard Haier and colleagues found that playing Tetris leads to a larger cortex and increases brain efficiency.

Additional studies show that playing the game StarCraft can lead to improved brain flexibility and problem solving. A study conducted in Italy concluded that playing 80 minutes of Rayman Raving Rabbids improves reading fluency better than one year of traditional reading therapy in a group of children ages 7 to 13. There are also compelling data  showing that playing brain-training video games for two hours a week can slow the degree of mental decay in the elderly.

However, I must caution you. Just as with virtually anything else in the world, too much of a good thing is probably bad for you. If you drink too much milk, eat too much fruit, or spend too much of your time exercising, there are likely going to be negative effects. The data suggest that modest amounts of video-game play, about 60 to 90 minutes a day, produces the maximum amount of cognitive benefits with the least amount of negative side effects.

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