Video games are changing our brains. This is actually not a great revelation, as current neuroscience research informs us about the way many daily activities change the structure and biochemistry of our brains. Scientists can now observe the brain’s plasticity, or its capacity to grow and change. It is only in the last 20 years that we have begun to recognize that brain change occurs through the life cycle of humans rather than only in early childhood. What one does, what one eats, what one plays, and how one feels all have an impact on the structure and operation of the brain. For example, research has shown that London taxi drivers increase the size of their hippocampus as they build up information and practice driving around the city of London. Nutritional research indicates that selected “brain foods” such as salmon and nuts improve brain efficiency, as well.
We are just beginning to learn about how video games and other digital media can change our brains. One recent study of the brains of 26 adolescent girls who played Tetris for 30 minutes a day for 3 months found an increase in the thickness of the cortex. Other studies have also indicated that specific parts of the striatum, a collection of tissues inside the cerebral cortex, influence one’s ability to improve motor skills that contribute to video-game success.
Many studies have helped us to see how video-game play stimulates portions of the brain. A study from Indiana University described how playing violent video games tends to stimulate the amygdala, which is associated with emotional arousal in the brain. The same study indicated that playing non-violent but exciting video games resulted in more activation of the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is involved with impulse control, focus, and self-management.
We still have much to learn about the impact of video games and other digital media on our brains. A great discussion of these issues can be found in Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows.
To learn more about this important topic, check out these straightforward and scholarly articles that reflect the current state of the science. You can also link to our complete bibliography on the science of games and learning or go to the Center for Media and Child Health Research base for more extensive information.