Video Games Shown To Improve Memory And Neural Connectivity In Children

This research agrees with earlier studies that have come to similar conclusions. Tinxi/Shutterstock

It’s certainly possible to improve your memory, and there are multiple ways to achieve this, including some rather unorthodox methods. The U.S. military, for example, are currently developing a new memory-boosting technique that involves delivering electrical pulses to your brain through implanted electrodes.

If this seems a little extreme to you, don’t worry: Video games are also thought to improve your memory, and a new study looking at how children’s brains respond to them serves to add more evidence to this theory. Research funded by the U.K.’s Medical Research Council has revealed that basic computer game training sessions are able to “rewire” the brains of children, improving their neural connectivity and memory over a short period of time.

“I see no reason why similar principles would not operate in cognitive training of older adults,” Dr. Duncan Astle, a cognitive researcher at the Medical Research Council in the U.K., told IFLScience.

A graph comparing the placebo group – involving games with unchanging difficulty – to the adaptive group, which involves games with increasing difficulty. The neural connectivity values and the working memory scores were higher in the adaptive group. Astle et al./Journal of Neuroscience

A pair of papers relating to video games and memory, one published and one submitted for publication, were presented this week at the annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS) in New York. Both focused on children's “working memory,” the ability to hold information in the mind for brief periods of time. Working memory is seen as being critical for both everyday tasks and far more complex ones, and researchers have noted that its development is strongly linked to education progress in childhood.

The team were curious as to whether or not this working memory can be “trained” to become more effective in 8- to 11-year-olds, so they turned to computer games. A group of children of this age were asked to take part in 20 training sessions on their home computers, each lasting about half an hour and featuring eight different games.

One such game involved remembering the location of asteroids that flashed up in sequence across a screen; later, the children had to click on the asteroids in order of their previous appearance. This game was often repeated with increasing difficulty. Another task involved remembering the appearance of words, once again with increasing difficulty over time.

Pew pew pew! There’s mounting evidence that video games improve memory formation and retention capabilities. EAStarWars via YouTube

The children tended to get better at the games over time, even as the difficulty continued to ramp up, implying that their brains were not only getting better at remembering sequences, but adapting to a new skill set with aplomb. This result seems to correlate with a recent study that also demonstrated that increasingly difficult games can reinforce older neural connections to make them more adaptable to changing conditions.

Additionally, magnetoencephalography (MEG) scans, those that map brain activity by looking at magnetic fields produced by the brain, were used to see how resilient the neural pathways in the children were. Even at rest, the neural connectivity between parts of the brain responsible for attention and visual processing remained strong, implying that the positive cognitive effects of the games persist after their inception.

“A future step is to consider how we can harness these changes – or others like them – for therapeutic benefit,” Astle added. “Here I think we have much to learn from the video game literature.” In any case, these studies add credence to the theory that video games can improve cognitive abilities – memory formation, in particular.

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