Do you spend a lot of your time playing video games on your PC or mobile device? Video games can be a lot of fun and a great way to pass time, not to mention the addiction some of them force you to develop. But often after wasting hours playing games, the guilt felt over it can be quite unsettling. Ever since the dawn of video games, kids have been fighting their parents to let them spend more time on gaming than on homework, but to little avail. Parents often see these games as a colossal waste of time.
However, this might soon not be the case anymore. Researchers time-and-again have been linking video games to enhanced cognitive abilities and improved brain development. A significant study, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, suggests that just one hour spend playing video games has a positive impact on the brain.
Games are no longer the colossal waste of time they once were thought to be. In fact, they can have a range of positive effects on the human brain, such as increasing the volume of grey matter and number of neural connections within various subregions of the brain. This results in improved cognitive control, spatial resolution of vision, hand-eye motor coordination, contrast sensitivity, and emotional regulation.
Researching the effects of video games on the brain
The ground-breaking research exploring the effects of video games on the human brain was carried out by Weiyi Ma, a University of Arkansas professor, in collaboration with researchers at the Key Laboratory for NeuroInformation of the Ministry of Education of China, a leading Chinese neuroscience research center.
The study involved 29 male students at the University of Electronic Science and Technology (China). These students were identified by their skill levels when it came to playing AVGs (Action Video Games) such as League of Legends. Players with over 2 years of gaming experience and ranking among the top 7% in the game were labelled as experts, whereas at the other end of the spectrum, players having less than 6 months of experience and ranking in the lowest 11% were selected and labelled as non-experts.
Both group of players were assessed and observed before, during and after playing the video game. The assessments pertained to the players’ visual selective attention, which is the brain’s ability to focus on relevant visual information while filtering out the lesser relevant information. Information processing takes up energy, so people who are more focused usually use their brains more efficiently.
To carry out the visual selective attentions, researchers briefly showed each participant a square in the center of the screen. Participants were then showed another square that flashed briefly in a different part of the screen. They were asked to identify the position of the second square relative to the first. During this experiment, the participants’ brain activity was monitored using an EEG (electroencephalography).
In the initial assessment before the game, expert gamers had more brain activity and better attention. They also scored better than non-experts in the initial visual selective attention assessment. Interestingly, however, after a one-hour gaming session, both the experts and non-experts had improved visual selective attention, and the two groups received similar scores on the post-game assessment.
According to the EEG data, non-experts also exhibited changes in brain activity resembling that of the experts. This clearly shows that gaming can not only improve a person’s concentration, it can also bring on significant changes to brain functions. However, this does not mean that a one-hour gaming session can make a person more focused. It will take time, probably years of regular gaming sessions, to become an expert and permanently retain heightened concentration abilities.
“These findings by no means suggest that expertise acquisition can be completed within one hour,” the researchers wrote in the paper. “Indeed, research has shown that expertise acquisition is a protracted process that may take years to complete.”
How does gaming help brain development?
Similar researches carried out years ago also suggest how playing video games regularly help increase the amount of grey matter in the brain. But how exactly does it happen? We all are familiar with the common notion that playing real sports (Soccer, hockey etc.) is better than video games because sports improve physical fitness, and motor and hand-eye coordination skills. That’s true, but the effects of video games are only now beginning to be fully understood, and they go far beyond the physical.
Games help children develop logical, literary and social skills. The more concentration an individual plays video games with, the stronger their neural connections develop in those particular areas. For example, if you’re playing a shooting game for extended periods of time, you’re essentially practicing your motor skills, hand-eye coordination and reflexes. If you’re playing a puzzle game, you’re engaging the area of the brain that is responsible for logic, reasoning and arithmetic skills.
The more you use a specific part of the brain, the more ‘work’ it has to do and the more neural connections it forms to get that work done. This can help increase the amount of grey matter in that area, ultimately increasing in size and contributing towards intelligence or enhanced concentration skills.
Video games are also helpful in improving basic visual processes, especially improve visual contrast sensitivity. They enhance an individual’s ability to focus and be more vigilant, leading to the development of better job-related skills.
Play video games regularly!
Video games don’t necessarily have to be major titles such as Call of Duty or DOTA 2. Sometimes, small puzzle or adventure games be excellent fun too and can have an equally desirable effect on your brain. Iospace.games has a great list of such web-based games that will stimulate your brain and get you addicted in a matter of seconds!
If you are a parent, you should encourage your kids to spend an hour or so each day playing video games, as it will help improve their brain development. This is especially the case for kids/teenagers, as this is the age during which the brain is most receptive to learning.
Disclaimer: do not use this as an excuse to play video games 24/7! There needs to be a healthy balance for video games to work out positively. Play them in moderation, and play them regularly. Have fun!