Video games as a pastime sometimes receive negative criticism regarding their effects on our physical and mental health, and it is generally known that sitting still all day isn’t very healthy for us.
According to a recent study, spending hours each week playing video games in front of a screen can boost brain activity and, in particular, the cognitive abilities needed for decision making, which is the process of considering all information received through our senses and choosing an appropriate response.
According to the study’s authors, video games may even be used as a training tool to hone the brain’s ability to make quick decisions, especially in cases when neurological damage has occurred to the brain.
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“The vast majority of our youngsters play video games for more than three hours each week, but the positive benefits on cognition and decision-making are not well understood,” says neuroscientist Mukesh Dhamala of Georgia State University.
“Our work offers some solutions to that,”
In 47 college-aged volunteers, 28 of whom frequently played video games and 19 of whom did not, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was employed to assess brain activity. People who played mostly took part in intensely action-packed real-time games like real-time strategy, first-person shooters, or team-based “arena” or “royal” fights.
The volunteers were instructed to hit buttons in accordance with how a group of dots moved on a display in front of them. Regular video game players responded more quickly and accurately, and the fMRI scans that followed revealed that their brains were also more active in some areas.
These areas comprised the left thalamus, the right supplementary motor area, and the right lingual gyrus, all of which are believed to be important in processing visual information cognitively and creating motor responses.
These findings suggest that playing video games may strengthen a number of the subprocesses for feeling, perception, and mapping to action to enhance decision-making abilities, according to Dhamala and his colleague, physicist Tim Jordan from Georgia State University.
Jordan has firsthand knowledge of the topic because, at age five, he participated in a study where he was asked to cover his good eye and play video games with only his weaker eye in order to develop its visual processing. At that time, he had one eye that was weaker than the other.
The training was effective since Jordan was able to play paintball and lacrosse after being legally blind in one eye.
The same kind of instruction may potentially be applied to improve sensorimotor decision-making as well.
Although the connection between video games and cognitive gains is not new, we are getting closer to understanding it with each new piece of study and to figuring out how we might be able to use the benefits of video games.
Once the pertinent brain networks have been discovered, playing video games can be used effectively for training, such as decision-making efficiency training and therapeutic interventions, according to Dhamala.
The research has been published in Neuroimage: Reports.