A new study has found a positive association between the amounts of time spent playing video games and thickness of certain areas of the brain. The results, which have been published in the journal PLOS ONE, may therefore represent a biological reason for the improvements in cognition which have been previously found to occur with video gaming.
Video games are extremely popular, especially amongst adolescents, and the gaming world becomes ever more sophisticated each year. Gaming has, however, been met with concern amongst many parents, teachers and politicians, especially with regards to violent games which have at times been associated with adverse effects in the behavior of some users. But is it all bad? In short- no, as we already know the positive effects that video gaming can have on cognitive function.
Previous studies have found that frequently playing video games can enhance certain visual skills, and engaging in strategic video games can also improve memory and reasoning. Although there are many studies that demonstrate the benefits of video gaming on cognition, how do they fit in with what’s going on in the brain? In hope of shedding light on this, a team of researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brains of 152 14-year old male and female adolescents. The scans were then used to estimate cortical thickness.
After controlling for age and sex, the team found a positive correlation between self-reported hours spent playing video games and cortical thickness of two areas of the brain. These were the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the left frontal eye fields (FEFs). The DLPFC is involved in decision making and strategic planning, and the FEFs are important for eye movement and allocating visuo-spatial attention. Both of these areas are therefore extensively involved in processes important for playing video games. The team didn’t find any cortical thinning in association with video gaming.
These data therefore suggest a biological reason for the previously observed positive effects on cognition that video gaming may bestow. The scientists suggested a continuation of this research could consider the specific genres of game played, as this was not taken into account in this particular study. Who knows, perhaps playing Call of Duty may enlarge these areas of the brain to a greater extent than FIFA.