Updated: Nov 1, 2022
All of us at some point, have played a video game. Video games are one of the most popular sources of entertainment and they have been for some years.
Tyson Fury and Joe Joyce (professional boxers) both say that they video games before a big fight. Many successful entrepreneurs say that they video games to zone out and wind down.
There are mixed views on whether video gaming is good or bad for us. Is it good or bad for our brain? Let's find out.
In this blog post I will go through:
What happens to your brain when you play video games
How video games affect your cognition
Addiction to video games
Future applications of video games
Brain changes when playing video games
Video games are one of the most popular computerised interventions to train cognition. Video games are used a lot in labs to train people and manipulate variables.
Kuhn et al (2014) looked into how playing video games affects the brain. Participants in the study played 'Super Mario' (great game) for 30 minutes every day for 2 months.
The results showed that after 2 months of sweating Super Mario for 30 minutes a day, participants showed an increase in grey matter in the right hippocampal formation, right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and bilateral cerebellum. Don't worry, I will break down what this means...
An increase in grey matter in these regions of the brain suggest better spatial navigation, strategic planning, working memory and motor performance.
Han et al (2010) conducted a study where 19 male participants played video games and had a fMRI scan to measure brain activity afterwards.
The fMRI data showed that after playing video games there was greater activity in the left inferior frontal gyrus (expressive language), parietal lobe (proprioception - where you are in space), thalamus (sensory and motor functioning) and right cerebellum (motor control).
Cognitive performance after video gaming
The studies mentioned above suggest that video gaming increases spatial navigation, planning, working memory, motor performance, proprioception and sensory functioning.
Ballesteros et al (2018) further suggested from their study that playing video games increases cognitive and perceptual functioning in children AND adults. They also suggested that video games are a good tool to improve memory as well.
Future applications of video gaming
Video gaming is used for entertainment and research purposes, mainly entertainment purposes though. The insight that video gaming can give us into the human brain is immense.
Mathiak and Weber (2006) suggested that virtual video gaming environments can be used to study the brain very effectively as they can look at neuronal responses in real time to a manipulated virtual environment. The virtual gaming environment can be adapted in many different ways to study the brain in lots of different real-world scenarios.
Pope and Palson used biofeedback-modulated video games in their research. These are video games that are designed to respond to physiological signals (skin temperature, pulse and respiring) as well as mouse clicks, joystick movements or game controller input.
For the future, there may well be video games that are designed to respond to physiological and neuronal signals. That way we may get a much better understanding of the human brain. Researchers could then also look at a variety of different real-world environments by using virtual environments in the video game.
The potential of using video games to understand the brain is exciting, maybe too exciting... Addiction to video gaming is a common problem in today's world. Video games are designed to get maximum input from people. Addiction to video games can lead to problems socialising, getting outside and being productive.
Some parents note that playing video games a lot has made their children 'desensitised' to violence and aggression, believing that it is appropriate to behave the way some characters do in video games. Research on this is actually very limited with little to no evidence to actually to support this.
Video games are not just great for enjoyment but are a great way to stimulate and study the brain. Playing video games stimulates many different regions of the brain resulting in better cognitive and motor functioning.
No matter what your age, you will benefit from a little video gaming. So put down your phone and grab a controller. Go and stimulate your brain, play some Super Mario or whatever you want to play. If anyone makes any comments, tell them you are stimulating your brain.
Just remember to put a timer on and come off after a certain amount of time, you don't want it to affect your workouts!