Study: Video Gamers Are Faster Learners, Have Stronger Brains

BOCHUM, Germany — A new study is giving kids an excuse to say, “Look Ma, video games help me do better in school!”

The latest research by neuropsychologists from Ruhr-Universitat in Bochum, Germany showed gamers outperformed non-gamers in a learning task. They also found that individuals who regularly played video games also showed increased brain activity in areas associated with learning.

A new study finds that gamers — people who regularly play video games — are faster learners and have more active brains than those who don’t play at all.

“Our study shows that gamers are better in analyzing a situation quickly, to generate new knowledge and to categorize facts – especially in situations with high uncertainties,” says the study’s first author Sabrina Schenk in a press release.

The study saw 17 volunteers who played action-based videogames more than 15 hours a week competing against 17 volunteers who didn’t play videogames on a regular basis.

The learning competition between the two groups took the form of a game called the “weather prediction task.” Often used in learning studies, the game uses a set of cards with different symbols on each card. Participants are shown different combinations of cards, with each combination indicating if it is more or less likely to rain. The participants don’t know which weather conditions correspond to the combinations at the start of the task, and must deduce what the cards are forecasting. They accomplish this by trying different combinations each turn and getting feedback on how sunny or rainy it is. After a certain number of rounds, the participants complete a questionnaire about the meaning of the various card combinations.

The authors found that the team of gamers were significantly better at understanding the various combinations. That advantage was even clearer when it came to highly uncertain combinations, such as one that predicts a 60 percent chance of rain over a 40 percent chance of sunshine.

After examining each participant’s brain with MRIs as they completed the weather prediction task, researchers also saw that gamers showed more activity in the hippocampus, the area of the brain linked to learning and memory.

“We think that playing video games trains certain brain regions like the hippocampus,” says Schenk. “That is not only important for young people, but also for older people; this is because changes in the hippocampus can lead to a decrease in memory performance. Maybe we can treat that with video games in the future.”

Since the gamers already had plenty of prior time spent in front of the screen, it is possible that in this case there is a correlation between people who are simply good at games and people who enjoy playing games — rather than video games causing people to become better at learning.

Still, the study adds to a growing pile of evidence that there is some close relation between video games and improved learning — possibly even a causative one.

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In one massive analysis of 116 empirical studies on video games, researchers found that video games not only improve attention, but in many cases were shown by MRIs to improve the size and efficiency of a subject’s brain.

So while a student can now effectively argue that video games do plausibly benefit them, there is the issue of moderation to consider. Addressing this, a large study out of Oxford University in 2014 examined thousands of children 10 to 15 years finding that an hour or less of videogames a day improved psychosocial adjustment over study participants that didn’t play at all. The opposite was found to be true for study subjects who played for multiple hours a day.

As in many things, the conclusion on the benefits of video games seems to follow the old adage: “Everything in moderation.” And though video games have been around for some time now, technology continues to inhabit more and more of our daily lives, so there is no doubt that more studies will be forthcoming as new ways to incorporate video games into daily life and learning emerge.

Indeed, one notable aspect of the study was the suggestion by researchers that video games could help older people with memory issues. As gamers age, many will no doubt continue with their hobby. It will be interesting to see how these gamers carry research on games with them into later stages of life.

The study out of Ruhr-Universitat was published recently in the journal Behavioral Brain Research.

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