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Playing video games can change brain regions associated with attention and spatial ability, suggests a new review published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Gaming, Good or Evil?
Video games are growing more and more popular in today’s world. With technological advancement, improved versions abound, and as endeavours have increased in terms of making more enjoyable, researchers have also come together to evaluate their effects on the people playing them. For the recent review, a team of researchers has analysed data from 116 studies that look into the effects of video games on the brain and behaviour. While a number of past papers have mentioned that the activity may enhance attention and visuospatial ability, video games have also been criticised for potentially adversely affecting health.
First author of the review, Marc Palaus, says that video games have been both glorified and demonised, claims that have not always been supported with reliable data; regardless, the opinions surrounding this popular entertainment are quite strong. But, what is the truth?
Gaming Re-Shaping the Brain
Upon investigating the way in which gaming changes the brain structure, behaviour, and activity, the team find that it can actually modify the way in which brains perform. For instance, gamers display improved attention (of different types, like sustained attention and selective attention). Furthermore, the efficiency of brain areas playing a role in attention is greater in gamers; these regions demand less activation for them to be focused on demanding tasks as opposed to people who do not play video games.
Moreover, the brain also undergoes structural changes. Brain regions associated with visuospatial skills can become enlarged, thus increasing in efficiency. The findings indicate that both long- and short-term gamers grow a bigger right hippocampus.
The Evil of Gaming: Addiction
Can we speak of video games without mentioning addiction?! Their addictive nature even has a name: Internet gaming disorder. Gaming addicts demonstrate changes in both the structure and function of the reward system embedded in neurones. Interestingly, these modifications bear close resemblance with those characterising other addictive disorders.
Consequences of these Brain Changes
What do these changes mean for us? If certain brain regions are changing because of exposure to video games, will there be tangible effects? According to Palaus, it is still too early to answer this question. Their findings focus on the response of the brain to gaming, but not on real-life changes, if any. Video games are considered to still be new such that researchers have not yet delved deeper into their actual effects.
“It’s likely that video games have both positive (on attention, visual and motor skills) and negative aspects (risk of addiction), and it is essential we embrace this complexity,” says Palaus.