Playing video games could have a positive influence on a person’s capacity to make decisions, as well as increase activity in certain regions of the brain. That’s according to a recent study that conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans on game players completing tasks and found notable differences compared to the brains of people who weren’t big into gaming.
Much of the research around frequent gaming has centered around violence, but little has been done in the way of looking for positive cognitive changes. These might arise from the fact that gaming by its very nature involves reading and reacting to a wide range of stimuli, often requiring swift decision-making to complete challenges.
To find out if or how video game playing may have influenced gamers’ brains, a new study published to Neuroimage: Reports carried out fMRI on gamers and non-gamers. During the imaging, participants were asked to complete tasks so that reaction time, decision-making, and brain activity could be assessed.
For the purposes of the study, video game players were defined as people who spent five hours or more a week gaming. In total, it enrolled 47 participants, 28 of whom were video game players and 19 of whom were not.
The results indicated that gamers were better at decision making, with decreased response time compared to people who didn’t play video games. There was also a notable difference in brain activity in regions involved with cognitive and sensorimotor processing, which relate to mental function and our ability to correlate sensory information with motor function.
“Video games are played by the overwhelming majority of our youth more than three hours every week, but the beneficial effects on decision-making abilities and the brain are not exactly known,” said lead researcher Mukesh Dhamala, associate professor in Georgia State’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and the university’s Neuroscience Institute, in a press release.
“Our work provides some answers on that. Video game playing can effectively be used for training – for example, decision-making efficiency training and therapeutic interventions – once the relevant brain networks are identified.”
As for applications for the research, lead author Tim Jordan of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Georgia State University believes it could help young people regain their sight. When he was five, Jordan was legally blind in one eye but after participating in a study that saw him play video games with the other eye covered his visual processing improved.
Jordan credits the improvement to game training, and the study authors think it has the potential to build up skills in several areas.
“These results indicate that video game playing potentially enhances several of the subprocesses for sensation, perception and mapping to action to improve decision-making skills,” they wrote.
“These findings begin to illuminate how video game playing alters the brain in order to improve task performance and their potential implications for increasing task-specific activity.”