Video games and brain development
Parents are often concerned with the amount of gaming their children partake in. However, recent studies have suggested that video games can serve as an incredibly effective learning and brain developmental medium.
In 2011, Dutch researchers from the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition published the results of a study. Their goal was to investigate how much FPS (first-person shooter) games contributed to the development of ‘a flexible mindset’ – a vital quality for someone who is good at playing these types of games. This makes sense when you consider the need to constantly process and react to ‘fast moving visual and auditory stimuli’ – all while limiting the number of mistakes.
During the study, it was found that the playing of FPS games was associated with ‘enhanced flexible updating of task-relevant information’, i.e. experienced gamers were faster and more accurate when it came to completing tasks that required quick judgement and good decision making.
Educational institutions have become increasingly aware of the benefits that video games can have on cognitive development. Many schools now include educational video games as part of their curriculum, in order to promote more accessible learning.
Gaming improves the brain’s aptitude for problem solving
If you like playing tactical or strategy-based games, then the following information may make for welcome news: your gaming habits are good for you.
Video games which require a fair degree of strategic planning demand that players formulate complex, sometimes multi-staged, solutions to address specific scenarios. This will often involve operating within a strict ruleset, dealing with resource scarcity (time, tools, money, etc) as well as the ability to learn from and adapt previous experience, and the perceptiveness to calculate and mitigate against any risks.
If this sounds to you like the person specification for a job vacancy, you’d be spot on. Research has shown that many gamers successfully transfer the problem-solving skills they’ve acquired through gaming into their everyday lives – including the world of work.
Playing video games can improve social skills
Regular gaming has also been linked with advanced development in the section of the brain associated with the development of social and emotional skills.
Online multiplayer games often involve working as a team, or in friendly competition against other players. As in the real world, this type of activity can foster the formation of friendships and communities among those who have shared a common experience.
With access to a group of people who have similar interests, communication becomes easier; individuals have something to talk about. In this way, online gaming – specifically in-game chat or other web-based platforms for gaming-related discussion, such as Discord, can help to prevent isolation: a problem some individuals may struggle with if they find it difficult to socialise in a conventional manner.
Gaming can improve coordination
While gaming, players must monitor and respond to fast-paced on-screen motion, often in a virtual 3D space, whilst simultaneously operating a controller. To perform these tasks smoothly and simultaneously requires the brain to coordinate visual feedback from the screen with corresponding movements of the hands (and head when playing in VR).
Continued exposure to these circumstances can boost the brain’s ability to multitask. Simultaneously operating a controller, assessing the player’s in-game environment, monitoring resources, evaluating the player’s in-game status, and being vigilant for potential threats is standard in many games.
Video games can help your brain ‘talk’ more effectively with your eyes
Scientific evidence exists which suggests that gaming can have a subtle but impactful effect on an individual’s visual perceptiveness.
In 2009, US researchers at the University of Rochester, in the state of New York, found that regular gamers were very good at noticing small changes to colours and textures against a uniform background.
This phenomenon, known as contrast sensitivity, has real-world advantages. For example, someone with good contrast sensitivity will likely be more adept at picking out an individual face in a crowd or spotting hazards while driving in poor visibility conditions.
In addition, as the study was conducted over months – and even years in some cases – the prolonged experiment inadvertently showed that extended time spent in front of a visual display unit, such as a computer monitor, is not a sole cause of eyesight damage.
There is also some evidence to suggest that increased video game playing may reduce the impact of amblyopia (lazy eye). In some cases, gamers have regained full 20/20 vision.
Gaming your way to a bigger brain?
This may sound like a tall tale, but the results of a German study published in 2013 showed that regular gaming can lead to the growth of grey matter, or – as it is described in the abstract for the published findings – induce ‘structural brain plasticity’.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin recorded an increase in brain size amongst participants who played Super Mario 64 regularly for 30 minutes across a two- month period. The areas of the brain where growth was observed were responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation and strategic planning, as well as fine motor skills.
Are video games always good for your brain?
Despite these incredible findings, it is still important to remember the importance of moderation when it comes to gaming.
While video games can be beneficial to cognitive development, it’s worth remembering that a player’s state of mind is also an aspect of the brain’s healthy functioning. Spending too much time isolated in front of a screen can have a detrimental effect on an individual’s emotional wellbeing, so it is important, especially among children and teens, to ensure that gaming is just one part of a varied recreational life.
For more information on how to game safely, or advice on other aspects of gaming – be it technical or cultural – please take a look through our wealth of gaming blog articles.