Novel Effect of Video Gaming on the Brain

Megan Brooks

July 18, 2022

Playing action video games boosts brain activity and decision-making skills, new research suggests.

Coupling neuroimaging with a decision-making task, investigators found college students who played video games regularly made faster and more accurate decisions vs peers who rarely played video games.

"This has not been shown before," investigators Mukesh Dhamala, PhD, and Timothy Jordan, PhD, both with Georgia State University in Atlanta, said in a joint email to Medscape Medical News.

"Previous neuroimaging studies have suggested that there might be beneficial effects of video game playing on attention, visuospatial, [and] memory abilities but a clear behavior-brain relation and the effects in decision-making processes were lacking," the researchers added.

The findings were published online June 22 in Neuroimage: Reports.

Brain Changes

The study included 47 college students. Of these, 28 reported playing action video games for at least 5 hours per week over the previous 2 years, while the remaining "non-gamers" averaged less than 1 hour per week of play.

During functional MRI, participants were given a left-right moving dots task in which they were asked to press a button in their right or left hand to indicate the direction dots were moving — or resist pressing either button if there was no directional movement.

"The sensorimotor decision-making task we used started with a color prompt (cue) immediately followed by a visual display of moving dots for a participant to make decision on the motion of moving dots and finally to actually execute a choice (left or right) with a motor response," the investigators write.

Results showed video gamers were faster by roughly 190 milliseconds and more accurate by 2% with their responses than peers who did not play video games.

These differences correlated to specific changes in the node and network activities in and across the lingual gyrus, the supplementary motor area, and the thalamus.

The findings suggest that playing video games "potentially enhances several of the subprocesses for sensation, perception and mapping to action to improve decision-making skills," the researchers write.

Jordan said he was not surprised by the results.

As a child, he had weak vision in one eye. As part of a research study he took part in when he was about 5 years old, he covered his good eye and played video games to strengthen the vision in the weak one.

Jordan credits video game training with helping him go from legally blind in one eye to building strong capacity for visual processing, allowing him to eventually play lacrosse and paintball.

"Nothing Dramatic"

Commenting for Medscape Medical News, Stephen Faraone, PhD, distinguished professor of psychiatry and vice chair of research, Department of Psychiatry, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York, also said he was not surprised by the findings.

"Nothing dramatic here," said Faraone, who was not involved with the research.

"Playing video games can alter the brain in a manner that improves some cognitive skills. The caveat is that no well-designed randomized controlled trials have documented that those improvements in cognitive skill generalize to persistent improvements in real-world outcomes such as school performance," he added.

Faraone noted it is also unclear at this point what the minimum amount of time is required in training with video games to begin obtaining clear benefits on decision-making skills.

Dhamala and Jordan pointed out that, as with all other things, gaming must be done in moderation.

"Playing too much can sometimes lead to addiction, just like anything that affects our brains, especially young people's developing brains," they said.

Dhamala's Lab at GSU is now working on a longitudinal neuroimaging study to answer these questions.

The study was funded by grants from GSU Brain & Behavior and GSU-GaTech Center for Advanced Brain Imaging. Dhamala, Jordan, and Faraone have reported no relevant financial relationships.

Neuroimage: Reports. Published online June 22, 2022. Full text

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