A new but unproven study states that some action video game players may lose gray matter in a part of their brain that is linked to mental illness. However, a Canadian study suggests that other players may actually benefit from playing these types of games. A psychologist outside of the study stated that there is no evidence that video games are harmful to the brain at all.
The benefits from playing video games seem to be dependent on what kind of game is played but they will also come with costs. The results from the study indicate that the benefits of playing shooting video games such as Call of Duty result in improved attention and short-term memory, however, for certain players these benefits come at the cost of losing brain matter. The head of the study, Gregory West, an assistant professor with the department of psychology at the University of Montreal stated that the difference in benefits and cost may come from the style of playing.
The study was originally created in order to better understand the effects of first-person and third-person shooters on the brain, such as Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War, Killzone, or Medal of Honor, in comparison to “3-D” platform games such as Sonic or the Super Mario Bros. series. The researchers conducted a test involving 100 people who were both expert and casual gamers and played a total 90 hours of game-play while the researchers used a virtual-reality test, and MRIs to see the impact on the hippocampus, the part of the brain that helps spatial and episodic memory. The results showed that the gray matter in the hippocampus grew in the players who used “spatial strategies” in order to maneuver their way through the video game, spatial strategist players create maps in their heads in order to better understand the geography of the world within the game they are playing, but the results also showed that the gray matter shrunk in those who used learned response to navigate the same games.
Those who played the Super Mario games showed growth in either the hippocampus or the entorhinal cortex. A video game expert and professor of psychology at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla called the brain studies problematic, “Given that there are so many areas in the brain, it stands to reason that, by chance alone, some of these areas may randomly differ between any two groups of people, researchers can sometimes make a big deal out of these random differences and ascribe them to something like video games.”
Lead author West suggests that adults play shooter video games in order to improve their hippocampus. “Playing video games should be balanced with other activities: offline socialization, exercise, work and school, family and good sleep. As long as games are part of a balanced lifestyle, there’s no evidence that they cause harmful brain changes.” Happy gaming!
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