Research shows that video game play can improve basic mental abilities.
In this article, I ask “Can you improve your grades using video games?” I also pointed to evidence in previous articles that the games may help children develop logical, literary, executive, and even social skills. Evidence has continued to mount, since then, concerning especially the cognitive benefits of such games. The most recent issue of the American journal of play (fall 2014) includes an article by researchers Adam Eichenbaum, Daphne Bavelier, and C. Shawn Green summarizing recent research finding evidence of lasting positive effects of video games on basic mental processes—such as perception, attention, memory, and decision-making. Most of the research involves the effects of action video games—that is, games that require players to move rapidly, keep track of many items at once, hold a good deal of information in their mind at once, and make split-second decisions. Such research employs two strategies—correlational and experimental.
In a correlational study, regular gamers are compared, on some perceptual or cognitive test, with otherwise comparable people who don’t play video games. The typical finding is that the gamers outperform the non-gamers on whatever test is used. This doesn’t prove that gaming is a cause of better performance because people who choose to play video games may be those who already have superior perceptual and cognitive abilities. The best proof that gaming improves these abilities comes from experiments in which all of the participants are initially non-gamers, and then some, but not others, are asked to play a particular video game for a certain number of hours per day, for a certain number of days, for the sake of the experiment. In these experiments, the typical finding is that those who play the video game improve on measures of basic perceptual and cognitive abilities while those in the control group do not.
Research shows that there are various benefits to playing video games. These include cognitive benefits, such as improved reaction time, improved mental flexibility, and improved spatial abilities, as well as other types of benefits, such as reduced stress levels, increased self-esteem, and increased prosocial behavior. In the following article, you will first learn more about the benefits of playing video games, and about the long-term implications of these benefits. Then, you will see how you can actively use these benefits to your advantage, and how you can assess whether you’re benefiting from playing video games. Playing video games with a physical component can improve your executive functions, attentional processing, and visuo-spatial skills. Overall, playing video games can lead to a variety of cognitive benefits. However, it’s important to keep in mind that different types of games offer different benefits, meaning that each game can only help you improve a certain set of abilities, which are related to the tasks that you need to perform in it, and that no single game will help you improve all aspects of your cognitive performance.
At a glance, more than 150 million people in the United States play video games regularly, or for at least 3 hours per week. The average American gamer is a 35-year-old adult, with 72 percent of gamers aged 18 or older. For video game use by children, most parents – 71 percent – indicate that video games have a positive influence on their child’s life. Video game sales continue to increase year on year. In 2016, the video game industry sold more than 24.5 billion games – up from 23.2 billion in 2015, and 21.4 billion in 2014. The top three best-selling video games of 2016 were Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Battlefield 1, and Grand Theft Auto V. These games fall into the first-person shooter or action-adventure genres – the top two genres, accounting for 27.5 percent and 22.5 percent of sales, respectively. First-person shooter and action genres often stand accused of stirring aggression and causing violence and addiction.
Decades of research examining video gaming and violence have failed to reach a consensus among scientists. Scientists have been unable to find a causal link between playing video games and acts of violence in the real world.Scientists have recently collected and summarized results from 116 scientific studies to determine how video games can influence our brains and behaviors. The findings of their review were published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. “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,” says Marc Palaus, first author of the review. By looking at all research to date, Palaus and the team aimed to observe whether any trends had emerged concerning how video games impact the structure and activity of the brain.
A total of 22 of the reviewed studies explored structural changes in the brain and 100 studies analyzed changes in brain functionality and behavior. Results of the studies indicate that playing video games not only changes how our brains perform but also their structure. For example, video game use is known to affect attention. The studies included in the review show that video game players display improvements in several types of attention, including sustained attention and selective attention. Furthermore, the regions of the brain that play a role in attention are more efficient in gamers compared with non-gamers, and they require less activation to stay focused on demanding tasks.
Evidence also demonstrates that playing video games increases the size and competence of parts of the brain responsible for visuospatial skills – a person’s ability to identify visual and spatial relationships among objects. In long-term gamers and individuals who had volunteered to follow a video game training plan, the right hippocampus was enlarged.Researchers have discovered that video gaming can be addictive – a phenomenon known as “Internet gaming disorder.”In gaming addicts, there are functional and structural alterations in the neural reward system – a group of structures associated with feeling pleasure, learning, and motivation. Exposing video game addicts to game-related cues that cause cravings, and monitoring their brain responses, highlighted these changes – changes that are also seen in other addictive disorders.“We focused on how the brain reacts to video game exposure, but these effects do not always translate to real-life changes,” notes Palaus.
The research into the effects of video gaming is still in its infancy and scientists are still scrutinizing what aspects of gaming impact what brain regions and how.“It’s likely that video games have both positive (on attention, visual and motor skills) and negative aspects (risk of addiction), and we must embrace this complexity,” Palaus continues.“Our findings and previous studies confirm there’s very little evidence these types of games can improve your life in a meaningful way,” says Wally Boot, associate professor of psychology, an expert on age-related cognitive decline.People are increasingly under the impression that brain-training apps will safeguard them against memory loss or cognitive disorders.Researchers tested whether playing brain-training games enhanced the working memory of players and thus improved other cognitive abilities, including reasoning, memory, and processing speed – a process scientists call “far transfer.”
However, this was not the case. “It’s possible to train people to become very good at tasks that you would normally consider general working memory tasks: memorizing 70, 80, even 100 digits,” explains Neil Charness, professor of psychology and a leading authority on aging and cognition.“But these skills tend to be very specific and do not show a lot of transfer. The thing that seniors, in particular, should be concerned about is if I can get very good at crossword puzzles, is that going to help me remember where my keys are? And the answer is probably no,” he adds.Charness points out that if your goal is to improve cognitive function, then aerobic exercise may help. Some research has found that aerobic activity rather than mental activity enhances the brain.Scientists at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) clarify that this provides a measure of scientific support in the brain fitness arena – criticized for lacking evidence – that brain training can stimulate meaningful and lasting changes.
After 12 hours of training over the period of a month, study participants aged between 60 to 85 years improved performance on the game that surpassed that of individuals in their 20s playing the game for the first time. Moreover, two other significant cognitive areas were improved: working memory and sustained attention. These skills were maintained 6 months after completion of their training.“The finding is a powerful example of how plastic the older brain is,” says Dr. Adam Gazzaley, Ph.D., UCSF associate professor of neurology, physiology, and psychiatry, and director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center. Dr. Gazzaley notes that it is encouraging that even a little brain training can reverse some of the brain declines that occur with age.A recent study conducted by neurobiologists at the University of California-Irvine (UCI) found that playing 3-D video games could also boost the formation of memories. Participants were allocated to either a group that played video games with a 2-D environment or a 3-D environment.
After playing the games for 30 minutes per day for 2 weeks, the students were given memory tests that engaged the brain’s hippocampus.The participants in the 3-D group significantly improved their memory test scores compared with the 2-D group. The 3-D group’s memory performance increased by 12 percent – the same amount that memory performance usually declines by between 45 and 70 years of age. “First, the 3-D games have a few things the 2-D ones do not,” says Craig Stark, of UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory. “They’ve got a lot more spatial information in there to explore. Second, they’re much more complex, with a lot more information to learn. Either way, we know this kind of learning and memory not only stimulates but requires the hippocampus. ”Strategy video games, in particular, have shown promise in improving brain function among older adults and may provide protection against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. “If the target is to improve older adults’ cognitive control, reasoning, and higher-order cognitive skills, and stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as long as possible, then maybe strategy games are the way to go,” informs Chandramallika Basak, assistant professor at the Center for Vital Longevity and School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas.Basak, like Charness, agrees that cognitive training should come second to physical activity programs when it comes to improving cognitive function.
Physical fitness programs have been linked with positive effects on cognition and brain function and structure.There is evidence to suggest that video games may be a viable treatment for depression and improve memory and mood in adults with mild cognitive impairment.The effect of video games on the brain is a new area of research that will continue to be explored. We may just be scraping the surface of the potential that video games could present in enhancing cognitive ability and preventing cognitive disorders.
Playing video games, including violent shooter games, may boost children’s learning, health, and social skills, according to a review of research in American Psychologist. The study comes out as debate continues among psychologists and other health professionals regarding the effects of violent media on youth. An APA task force is conducting a comprehensive review of research on violence in video games and interactive media and will release its findings later this year. Important research has already been conducted for decades on the negative effects of gaming, including addiction, depression, and aggression, and we are certainly not suggesting that this should be ignored, says Isabela Granic, Ph.D., of Radboud University Nijmegen in The Netherlands, lead author of the article. However, to understand the impact of video games on children and adolescents’ development, a more balanced perspective is needed.
While one widely held view maintains that playing video games is intellectually lazy, such play actually may strengthen a range of cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory, and perception, according to several studies reviewed in the article. This is particularly true for shooter video games, which are often violent, the authors found. A 2013 meta-analysis found that playing shooter video games improved a player’s capacity to think about objects in three dimensions just as well as academic courses designed to enhance these same skills, according to the study. This has critical implications for education and career development, as previous research has established the power of spatial skills for achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, Granic says.
This enhanced thinking was not found when playing other types of video games, such as puzzles or role-playing games. Playing video games may also help children develop problem-solving skills, the authors said. The more adolescents reported playing strategic video games, such as role-playing games, the more they improved in problem-solving and school grades the following year, according to a long-term study published in 2013. Children’s creativity was also enhanced by playing any kind of video game, including violent games, but not when the children used other forms of technology, such as a computer or cell phone, other research revealed. Simple games that are easy to access and can be played quickly, such as Angry Birds, can improve players’ moods, promote relaxation and ward off anxiety, the study said.
If playing video games simply makes people happier, this seems to be a fundamental emotional benefit to consider, said Granic. The authors also highlighted the possibility that video games are effective tools for learning resilience in the face of failure. By learning to cope with ongoing failures in games, the authors suggest that children build emotional resilience they can rely upon in their everyday lives. Another stereotype the research challenges is the socially isolated gamer. More than 70 percent of gamers play with a friend, and millions of people worldwide participate in massive virtual worlds through video games such as Farmville and World of Warcraft, the article noted.
Multiplayer games become virtual social communities, where decisions need to be made quickly about whom to trust or reject and how to lead a group, the authors said. People who play video games, even if they are violent, that encourage cooperation are more likely to be helpful to others while gaming than those who play the same games competitively, a 2011 study found.