How video gaming can be beneficial for the brain

Get gaming! Scientists found that playing Super Mario can make you brainier, or at least cause increases in the brain regions responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation and strategic planning. Credit: Ulrich Knappek

Video gaming causes increases in the brain regions responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation and strategic planning as well as fine motor skills. This has been shown in a new study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charité University Medicine St. Hedwig-Krankenhaus. The positive effects of video gaming may also prove relevant in therapeutic interventions targeting psychiatric disorders.

In order to investigate how video games affect the brain, scientists in Berlin have asked adults to play the video game "Super Mario 64" over a period of two months for 30 minutes a day. A control group did not play video games. Brain volume was quantified using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In comparison to the control group the video gaming group showed increases of grey matter, in which the cell bodies of the nerve cells of the brain are situated. These plasticity effects were observed in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex and the cerebellum. These brain regions are involved in functions such as spatial navigation, , and fine motor skills of the hands. Most interestingly, these changes were more pronounced the more desire the participants reported to play the .

"While previous studies have shown differences in brain structure of video gamers, the present study can demonstrate the direct causal link between video gaming and a volumetric brain increase. This proves that specific brain regions can be trained by means of video games", says study leader Simone Kühn, senior scientist at the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. Therefore Simone Kühn and her colleagues assume that video games could be therapeutically useful for patients with mental disorders in which are altered or reduced in size, e.g. schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's dementia.

"Many patients will accept video games more readily than other medical interventions", adds the psychiatrist Jürgen Gallinat, co-author of the study at Charité University Medicine St. Hedwig-Krankenhaus. Further studies to investigate the effects of video gaming in patients with mental health issues are planned. A study on the effects of video gaming in the treatment of is currently ongoing.

More information: Kuhn, S. et al. (2013), Playing Super Mario induces structural brain plasticity: Grey matter changes resulting from training with a commercial video game, Molecular Psychiatry.… /abs/mp2013120a.html

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Oct 30, 2013
A sad commentary on our culture today. Thinking every way of somehow to justify our behavior. But this is what the majority of people want to hear.
Oct 30, 2013
So using your brain makes it better, who would have guessed?
Oct 30, 2013
The problem with Super Mario 64 is the stupid sound engineer who recorded cockateils for the birds singing outside in the castle grounds.

That won't give you brain plasticity, but brain spasticity. Just ask anyone living next door to a cockateil owner.
Oct 30, 2013
I wonder if different genera of games will show different results.
Oct 30, 2013
The problem with Super Mario 64 is the stupid sound engineer who recorded cockateils for the birds singing outside in the castle grounds.

What annoyed me was that snow level, with the penguin on the ice bridge and the giant snowman. Talk about frustrating lol
Oct 30, 2013
Games have a way of teaching us without our knowledge. I learned to type quickly from playing WOW. No to mention old RPG's where you spend a lot of time reading the dialogue, its like reading a book. Then there are strategy games, which are good fun and teach management skills and multitasking. But in the end, video games rarely if ever give you skills that apply to the real world, except for maybe computer skills and hand-eye coordination.
Oct 30, 2013
Spatial navigation, memory formation, strategic planning and fine motor skills, these are all means to an end. Video games benefit you in a far more direct way that is an end in itself. They're fun.
Nov 06, 2013
The authors might as well write a paper extolling the therapeutic properties of cocaine and gush on about how it increases reaction speed and makes decision-making easier. Sure, I may have wasted over 90K in tuition, spent 40K on therapy to get rid of my video game addiction, and shrunk the portion of my brain that is responsible for empathy, but hey, at least my fine motor skills increased slightly.

What worries me the most is that the author neglected to note is that this increase is very often accompanied by an extreme decrease in attention span when other, more useful tasks are attempted. I think (and so does every psychologist I've spoken to) it's pretty safe to say that this totally negates any minor increase in fine motor skills. Because superb motor skills are irrelevant if you can't interact with people properly or hold a steady job.

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