BARCELONA — Gamers, rejoice! For all of those naysayers who believe there are no tangible benefits to having a controller in your hands, that’s patently false. A new study finds that playing video games can improve functions of the brain and even cause it to grow larger and more efficient.
Researchers at the Open University of Catalonia in Spain conducted a meta-analysis of 116 previous empirical studies on video games, 22 of which examined structural changes in the brain stemming from gameplay, and 100 of which looked at changes in brain functionality and/or behavior.
Overall, gaming, whether done competitively or for leisure, was shown to improve various measures of attention, including sustained attention and selective attention. Gamers were also found to have an easier time in focusing on demanding tasks.
In addition, playing video games was linked to an increase in size and efficiency of brain regions associated with visuospatial skills (i.e., the ability to accurately perceive where objects lie in space). One such region is the right hippocampus.
Still, the researchers acknowledged that video games can have some detrimental effects on the human brain, the most prominent of which are their addictive qualities.
Previous research has shown that the modified neural reward system found in gamers largely mirrors that of those with other addictive disorders.
As for the implications of this meta-analysis?
“[While] we focused on how the brain reacts to video game exposure, these effects do not always translate to real-life changes,” acknowledges Marc Palaus, the paper’s lead author.
Since gaming is a relatively new medium, much research still has to be conducted on precisely how games affect the human brain, argues Palaus. While there is evidence that gaming can tremendously affect certain regions of the brain, specific mechanisms and causes of neural changes remain somewhat of an enigma.
“It is essential we embrace this complexity,” concludes Palaus.
The study’s findings were published in the journal Frontiers.