Boosting Brain Function with Video Games

Pick up that controller, friend, because video games may just help you improve your cognitive abilities.
A new study published in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences found action video games—which require players to navigate complex 3-D settings, feature quick-moving targets, include large amounts of clutter and require players to switch between focused and distributed attention—are most beneficial to cognitive abilities.

Approximately 155 million American play video games, with an average two gamers per household, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

Forty-two percent of gamers indicate they play regularly, constituting at least 3 hrs of gameplay per week. In 2014, consumers spent a total $22.41 billion in the games industry.

“The rising popularity of video games has spurred significant interest in how video games may alter the human brain and human behavior,” write the researchers C. Shawn Green and Aaron R. Seitz, from the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison and Univ. of California, Riverside, respectively. “This is a concern not just for research psychologists, but also for politicians, parents, teachers, medical doctors and many others involved in setting and implementing public policy.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends children and teens limit engagement with entertainment media, which includes video games, to one or two hours per day. That’s substantially less than the seven hours the organization estimates the average child spends ingesting entertainment media.

However, a problem with the organization’s recommendation is it doesn’t differentiate between types of entertainment media content. Green and Seitz ask, “Are 2 hr(s) of watching reality television fully equivalent to 2 hr(s) of playing educational video games, or 2 hr(s) of interacting with peers on social networks?”

Even the label “video games” is too broad a category. Much like food, video games, depending on their content, can have negative or positive impacts on the brain.

Studies on the effects of action games “show that individuals can switch between competing tasks more efficiently after action video game training,” the researchers write. “Other aspects of cognitive function improved by action video game training include the ability to multitask and the ability to mentally rotate objects.”

One study, focused on novice laparoscopic surgeons, found playing action video games improved performance on a surgery simulator.

Surgeons who played video games for more than three hours per week made 37% fewer errors, were 27% faster and performed 42% better than surgeons who never played video games.

Action video games, according to the researchers, even outperform “brain games.”

“While these games can add entertainment value to what are otherwise somewhat sterile psychology tasks, they typically embody few of the qualities of the commercial video games linked with cognitive improvement,” they write.

Additionally, some games may advertise cognitive function benefits without any science backing the claim.

The researchers suggest an agency, such as the Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Trade Commission, take the mantle of responsibility for providing games with proper labeling when it comes to such claims.

“The development of this regulatory structure will require buy-in from many stakeholders, including basic research scientists, game industry leaders and government officials,” the researchers write. 

Source: R & D


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