After Hours

Research indicates gaming is good for the brain

Gamers aren't wasting time -- they're increasing their brain function and adding to their brain mass, according to a recent study.

As a geek and as a parent, I have a hard time reconciling my love of video games with my need to unplug my family from electronic entertainment sources. The pediatricians tell us that too much video gaming is bad for our children, but my son learned to read with the explicit intention of reading the text in Super Paper Mario. His goal is to become a distinguished enough reader to effectively play World of Warcraft (what would you expect from a son of a member of Technologia?). I will openly admit that I am guilty of encouraging his reasoning. But while I encourage his efforts toward literacy, I do work hard to limit the amount of video gaming (and television) that goes on in our home.

I think this is something that all video gamer geeks can relate to because society often stereotypes gamers as Eric Cartman-esque (if you haven't seen the South Park episode where Cartman plays World of Warcraft, it's worth watching). But not all stereotypes about geeks are bad. For instance, geeks are often stereotyped as an intelligent group. Turns out, this might be accurate.

Video games' effects on the brain

New research conducted by a team of leading neuroscientists shows that playing video games actually improves brain function and adds to brain mass. Here are more details about the study.

In 1992, neuroscientist Richard Haier, then working with the University of California, Irvine, conducted a study of how playing video games effects the brain. That study used Tetris, a video game based on geometric concepts. In the 1992 study, Haier found that during the first several hours of exposure to Tetris, the amount of glucose in the brain soars. The brain uses this glucose for energy, creating a sort of sugar high. However, Haier also found that after the first several hours of Tetris playing, glucose levels in the brain notably decrease. At this point, the brain is able to complete more complex problems while using less energy. In effect, the brain physically learns and adapts.

The company that sells Tetris, Blue Planet Software, learned about the 1992 study and hired Haier as a consultant. When Haier put together a team of leading neuroscientists, including Leonard Leyba, Sherif Karama, and Rex Jung, and wanted to continue the research, Blue Planet Software was happy to fund the project, though the software company remained hands-off.

The new study, published September 1, 2009 in BMC Research Notes, furthers Haier's previous work. The researchers used Tetris as the video game component again and had adolescent females be study participants. 15 test subjects played Tetris for about 90 minutes each week for three months, while the 11 control subjects were asked to avoid playing video games entirely. MRI tests show that the cerebral cortex of the subjects who played Tetris grew thicker and gained neurons in cortex areas that handle sensory information and complex movement planning. Overall, the test subjects showed marked increase in critical thinking and language abilities.

So, it turns out that there is quite a lot of truth behind the intelligent geek stereotype. Now we just need somebody to prove that all video games have the same benefits as Tetris. Surely World of Warcraft can be proven to increase brain function.

What about your gaming vs. real-world activities?

At what point do you turn off the video games and go out in the real world to get your experience? How do you set limits, and do you consider experts' recommendations and societal stereotypes when doing so?

More game research-related stories on TechRepublic

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Nicole Bremer Nash is Director of Content and Social Media for HuTerra, where she uses SEO and social media to promote charitable organizations in their community-building and fundraising efforts. She enjoys volunteering, arts and crafts, and conduct...

18 comments
Cyberjester
Cyberjester

Nothing related to critical thinking of course, just the amount of teamwork required in a 60 player raid would be greater than that shown by.. Oh, the Socceroos? Unpatriotic Aussie here so that seemed appropriate. :P I dropped out of WoW shortly after I went past 60 on my warlock, but a full raid can be insanely hectic. So when a person can organise a group of complete noobs to raiding, through a successful raid on hard, I'd say that person has excellent organisational skills. For example. If someone can team up and win Arena games repeatedly, they're either OP at the time or they're playing as a team. Something which is encouraged. No idea where the source material is, but games aren't all bad. Puzzle games help critical thinking, team games help you mesh with other people better. Benefits all round. Good to hear a parent who is neither completely against gaming or doesn't care at all though. Personally I'd say you're a bit on the harsh side, but I'm a gamer so that's pretty biased. :p

n.smutz
n.smutz

A friend of mine built his excellent reading skills on Final Fantasy and other RPGs. I would also expect a lot of benefit from the complex, turn-based, battle systems of that genre.

ibon11
ibon11

It is so obvious to me I don't need a study to tell me so. Many times we forget that you can't judge computers and it's doftwares, something new, on old views. Pretty soon it's going to be a new generation out there whose life is based on computers and they will be able to see what comes close to the real picture. I wish I could be here to see it but I probably won't. Why do you think people refuse to learn to use computers? Because it requires mental excercise. Kids that are deprived of electronic stuff are going to be a step back of others in the future. Their minds will have developed less.

psingleton
psingleton

I have to say that my pursuits in gaming often lead me to develop innovations for my personal business (a Halloween based company). This shows that not only am I gaming, I am doing research into possible additions to my income. With few exceptions, problem solving is a key to gaming, thus we will have a increase in brain activity with any game. What I would like to see is how this compares to the non-interactive effect of TV.

etkinsd
etkinsd

The control subjects "...were asked to avoid playing video games entirely..." What other alternative activities were used in comparison? If that's the extent of the study -- it's almost like using a person locked in a prison cell as a study control. Now, before promoting the results... let's do something a bit more comprehensive. At least compare it to a person reading for the same length of time. Or a person writing source code... or maybe a mechanic fixing an automobile for an extended length of time... i.e. something where there is extensive troubleshooting and problem solving going on... maybe even doing suduko or crossword puzzles?

twarfield
twarfield

Tetris is unique in terms of requiring quick analysis of geometric shapes and corresponding white space which that space could possibly occupy. Not sure how this relates to a typical hack-and-slash video game. What studies have been done regarding hyperstimulation and lack of neural pathway differentiation (pruning of dendrites)?

rmox2000
rmox2000

Our son, now 22, spent what we felt was an alarming amount of time computer gaming as he grew up. I recall scolding him many times to stop playing games and go to bed or stop playing games and do homework, etc. Of course, I knew it couldn't be *all* bad... many of the games he favored were online multiplayer games in which typing rapidfire messages to other team players was part of a successful strategy -- the only thing I could account for to explain the fact that this 14-year-old could type over 100 words a minute! Nonetheless, our admonitions and warnings of a doomed future for him continued until he graduated high school. Two years later... he was working at Microsoft as a game tester. And he has since moved on to several other high-paying software engineering positions. He sure showed us, didn't he? ;-) My point, if it isn't already clear: As an adult, our son is performing intellectually and socially at par with or better than his peers -- anecdotal evidence that supports the study's conclusions.

davids021
davids021

I truly believe this is a great article. Myself, I have learned many historical, economic, tactical, survival, problem solving, and many more facts/strategies just alone from videogames. World of Warcraft actually taught me a lot about economics, how a market can fluctuate when something new comes out and how over time things can go up or down depending on supply/demand. It has helped me with personal marketing, such as using craigslist like the Auction House in World of Warcraft. I have learned how to drive to the best of my ability through video games. I never shoot a gun but when it comes down to it, I can hit a target pretty good thanks for first person shooters. I have learned how to use strategy to defeat opponents, which could be used today within the military. I have learned a great deal about the World Wars that have taken place. I have seen what D-day would have been like. Thanks to video games, my typing has increased tremendously. Some video games teach you how to reason and think critically. For example, Fallout video games, everything you do effects your karma so you need to think if this is going to have a big effect on your life or not when making decisions. I would not be as even half as great of a person that I am if it was not for the video games that have taken part in my life. Thank you technology!

Claptrap1
Claptrap1

When you claim that kids deprived electronic stuff will have less developed minds butI can ensure that they don't! Sure they may lack of the SKILLS that are needed in a world heavily depending electronics, especially IT and computing skills, but that is NOT THE SAME AS deloveloped mind - the kids have DIFFERENT SKILL SETS that need just as much intelligence and mind development. Not directly comparable, but as an example: I was in a bar in developing country late at night, with three of other people. Everyone ordered beer at different times, different makes and different quantities; the waitress was a little girl who's hands were trembling under the beer glasses. When it came to paying, she could add up all the customers' tabs separately in quickly her head and to give correct change from three different currencies, although she only went to school part-time and had never seen a computer. She had not had any more rest than your average kid but had been working in the bar all afternoon, not only doing physical work but also mental artihmetic under duress.... And so you really think the Egyptians, Incas, Pythagoras were less intelligent because they didn't have electronics developing their brain? I challenge half of gamers to come up with equally creative and logical/scientific breakthrough! I'm not saying gaming hasn't got it's place or that it is bad for you as long as things are kept in balance: I believe that as long as the brain in actively involved in the proces, it will develop the brain at certain extent... You may have a game to teach you calculate the angle when you fall over (the brain will work this out and make adjustments subconsciously), but that doesn't mean it translates to real body balance any more than shooting things on your screen will help you to get a feel to a real rifle that kicks you back as you shoot, let alone the reality of a war zone where you only have one real life.... Passive watching of TV as opposed to playing games has been mentioned here but what about reading books? As far as I know, reading books activate larger part of the brains than watching TV - although you can actively watch TV, too. Usually younger kids are good at that but then we lose it, like we lose the perfect pitch (most babies are born with it) as we grow up. The study does not really address anything else except that PC gaming is not harmful to intelligence. The complexity of mental develpoment makes comparisons for superior mental development difficult, and isolating and depriving all types of mental stimulus unethical and nigh impossible.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

'most' activity would be good for the brain regardless. However this shows that videogames are not harmful to the brain, which was the point I think.

highlander718
highlander718

..but than real life is SOooo much different. I agree that some games do have their practical advantages, and some are educational, but when you say that you would be able to shoot a real gun in real life, because you are so good at it in games ... I'm afraid you are pushing it too far. And than we have the gaming adiction, the wasted time ...no, I will always prefer real life experiences and leave the games for what they are : temporary entertainment, same as a movie or listening to music.

john
john

Our son, 12, never reads a book (unless forced to), does the barest minimum of homework at the last possible moment, and is only interested in "playing" - sports, video games and hanging around. He's not stupid - he just doesn't like all that stuff that we and society think are good for him. After reading this article I'm feeling a tad more optimistic about his future prospects!

ibon11
ibon11

anything about Egyptians, Incas, Pythagoras. if these people had not come before the computer would not exist. The writer is not claiming that only kids who play computer games are intelligent. But yes, you need to see that it will develop the intelligence. Anything that makes your brain think and think fast will do that. The after 30/40 generation has a target problem. If it's on paper it's good. If it's on a screen, it's bad. What difference does it make where we view the information? I have read many books and still do, I do a lot of research on the Internet on many subjects and just last night I watched three excellent programs on PBS. I can read a book on Jerome Robbins but I can't watch the dances or listen to the music in a book. One does not preclude the other but rather complement. Again there are bad books and good books. Good programs and bad programs. Reliable sources and unreliable sources. What the over 30 generation has to have clear is that technology has taken over, for good and bad, just like life, and there is no turning back. We must shake off many of the ways we were and adjust to what our young people are doing because that is our present and our immediate future AND it is growing by leaps and bounds.

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

That is true that using the brain increases its ability (called learning). What I find odd about the anti-gamers ("live real life instead") is that they seem to ignore how human children have learned thru history: 1) real life experience and 2) hearing the stories/epic poems such as The Iliad or the Bible. Upon the adoption of books (which Aristotle said would destroy civilization (same old same old)), people could now read for knowledge about real life as well as participate in it. Reading is a completely useless skill--except for what you can learn from it. Thus, if you can learn from video games, then at least they are only as 'useless' as reading. (You read that here first, folks ;-) )

highlander718
highlander718

"Good for the brain" as in the title is very different from "not harmful" :-).

dreron
dreron

...you're reading "rayuela". Depending on the order you chose to read the chapters you'll get a different history (a history that makes sense, btw) genius piece of work. there's an English version called Hopscotch, that should have been some work! Edit: there's an English version

etkinsd
etkinsd

people don't always agree or "learn" from what they read; however, hopefully their thinking and critical reasoning ability has been exercised.

Tink!
Tink!

My daughter swears that she learned many of the big words in her vocabulary from watching cartoons. Games that make you think, solve puzzles, work out solutions to situations etc can understandably make the brain work more. You don't really get that in books, since the story gets laid out for you. We worry about our kids sometimes because they're seemingly always playing games or watching TV. So far though, schoolwork doesn't seem to be a challenge.

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