Is Tetris good for the brain?

Is Tetris good for the brain?

Brain imaging shows playing Tetris leads to a thicker cortex and may also increase brain efficiency, according to research published in the open access journal BMC Research Notes. A research team based in New Mexico is one of the first to investigate the effects of practice in the brain using two image techniques.

Researchers from Mind Research Network in Albuquerque used brain imaging and Tetris to investigate whether practice makes the brain efficient because it increases . For 30 minutes a day over a three-month period, 26 adolescent girls played Tetris, a requiring a combination of . The girls completed both structural and functional MRI scans before and after the three-month practice period, as did girls in the control group who did not play Tetris. A structural MRI was used to assess cortical thickness, and a functional MRI was used to assess efficient activity.

The girls who practiced showed greater brain efficiency, consistent with earlier studies. Compared to controls, the girls that practiced also had a thicker cortex, but not in the same brain areas where efficiency occurred.

The areas of the brain that showed relatively thicker cortex were the Brodmann Area (BA) 6 in the left frontal lobe and BA 22 and BA 38 in the left temporal lobe. Scientists believe BA 6 plays a role in the planning of complex, coordinated movements. BA 22 and BA 38 are believed to be the part of the brain active in multisensory integration—or our brain’s coordination of visual, tactile, auditory, and internal physiological information.  Functional MRI () showed greater efficiency after practice mostly in the right frontal and parietal lobes including BAs 32, 6, 8, 9, 46 and BA 40. These areas are associated with critical thinking, reasoning, and language and processing.

“One of the most surprising findings of brain research in the last five years was that juggling practice increased gray matter in the motor areas of the brain,” said Dr. Rex Jung, a co-investigator on the Tetris study and a clinical neuropsychologist. “We did our Tetris study to see if mental practice increased cortical thickness, a sign of more gray matter. If it did, it could be an explanation for why previous studies have shown that mental practice increases brain efficiency. More gray matter in an area could mean that the area would not need to work as hard during Tetris play.”

“We were excited to see cortical thickness differences between the girls that practiced Tetris and those that did not,” said Dr. Richard Haier, a co-investigator in the study and lead author of a 1992 study that found practicing Tetris led to greater brain efficiency. “But, it was surprising that these changes were not where we saw more efficiency. How a thicker cortex and increased brain efficiency are related remains a mystery.”

The researchers hope to continue this work with larger, more diverse samples to investigate whether the brain changes we measured revert back when subjects stop playing Tetris. Similarly, they are interested if the skills learned in Tetris, and the associated changes, transfer to other cognitive areas such as working memory, processing speed, or spatial reasoning.

More information: MRI assessment of cortical thickness and functional activity changes in adolescent girls following three months of practice on a visual-spatial task; Richard J Haier, Sherif Karama, Leonard Leyba and Rex E Jung; BMC Research Notes 2009, 2:174;

Source: BioMed Central (news : web)

Citation: Is Tetris good for the brain? (2009, September 1) retrieved 20 March 2019 from
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Sep 01, 2009
As a gamer, I think this is an interesting study. I believe that different kinds of video games have different cognitive effects... some good, some bad. The researchers here attribute Tetris' "juggling" aspect to the increase in cortex thickness. I prefer this kind of focused study to those studies that talk about "video games" in general, unfairly lumping all computer games together despite the fact that computer games vary widely in content and mode of challenge.

Sep 01, 2009
Screw meditation, I'm going with Tetris.

Sep 02, 2009
Hey, did they test Sudoku too???

Sep 02, 2009
In the 90's I played many PC based versions of Tetris, especially "the original". I could maintain games for 3 to 5 hours. After several days of long games, I would have intense nightmares where I was trapped at the bottom of the Tetris well and the pieces were tumbling down at me. I used the controls to manipulate the pieces so I would not be crushed. Normally I could intentionally wake up, from unpleasant dreams, but not these. I interpreted this as an overload warning and stopped playing. Frac (from Simsalabin), a 3-D form of tetris, had similar effects but perhaps weaker because the game was more complex. Carpal tunnel now sets in after 10 minutes so I can no longer play fast games. I do feel that Tetris and Frac sharpened my mental skills, which seemed to benefit my programming. Simple Sodoku does not have this effect on me, but more advanced Sodoku variants and Cross-Sums (Dell puzzles) both seem to sharpen my mind.

Sep 02, 2009
Nods at RSP. (Btw, it isn't fun, but learn to play with your other hand. Learning curve is low.)

There are other games which I'd guess have the same effect as Tetris. Not everyone is going to know this one, but in "Oblivion" there's a slow real time game to optimize the position of partly concealed disk sections. It's possible to "buy your way out" of having to do the exercise, but somehow, I never do.

Sep 03, 2009
I was thinking of comparisons more like Tetris vs. Grand Theft Auto as having good vs. bad cognitive development...

Sep 03, 2009
GTA glorifies antisocial and criminal behavior and desensitizes violence, which in the absence of normal interpersonal relationships (which reinforce civil aand compassionate behavior) would seem to have unavoidable consequences, mostly bad. As far as cognitive development, there is a big different between ultrafast action & immersion environments that promote anxiety, and slower games that give time for analysis and comparison of multiple options. Different areas of the brain involved. It takes all types, but to be honest I cannot conceive of much use to society (or to me) for somebody with ultrafast reflexes but diminished reasoning ability.

Sep 04, 2009

You imply that I violated some commandment of yours by commenting. Are you insecure? Or just a bully?

I *never* gave my kids Xbox or any other video game or permitted them in my house. They had access to selective PC games - after presenting a cogent case to me about why they were acceptable. They gravitated toward Mech Warrior, Sim City, and other complex games. Of course they were exposed to the other stuff at friend's houses, but they chose to spend more time with the games I approved of.

As a youth soccer coach for many years, I have seen the steady trend: more video games, decreased social skills, decreased physical condition. While I cannot PROVE there is a cause and effect, the correlation is very obvious - and any intelligent and concerned parent/coach would pay close attention.

There is a big difference between the new set of social interactions you extol and the old playtime with kids in the neighborhood. In real life, when you play too rough and hurt somebody, you learn that you hurt another person, they won't play with you any more, and maybe nobody else will either. You learn to apologize and be more careful. Video games don't do this. Maybe they offer escapism and maybe that is a "safety valve" of sorts. I far prefer vigorous physical activity.

For the record, I have been intensely involved in my children's education from birth through college. I personally taught programming, gemoetry, algebra, and calculus. I have coached 100's of kids in soccer (and indoor soccer, a very physical sport which I call "ice hockey without pads") and taught karate to dozens.

I fail to see how the extreme reflexes demanded in video games has anything to do with real world athletic performance. I am reminded of youths who off to ROTC or military physical training and try to show me how effective their hand to hand techniques are. After all, the DI screamed into their ears how good these techniques were, and they certainly worked hard in training. It was embarassingly easy to put them down, even being 20 years older and overweight. I'm no black belt, and have never been in a street fight, but a real martial arts school teaches real techniques - plus instills caution and humility instead of foolish arrogance.

You are very defensive about video games. You are trying to PROVE that video games are benign or even beneficial. If you expand your scientific reading, you will learn that you cannot prove a negative, and that absence of proof is NOT proof of absence. I don't think any of the assertions I have made are baseless, but for the sake of discussion I will retract them and replace them with "Of everything that the incredibly rich and varied world offers, why would you glorify video games and encourage children to play them?"

And that is all I have to say about that.

Sep 06, 2009
Velanarris, *adults* have difficulty telling between reality and fiction often enough. How many people believe the moon landing was a fake? That UFOs are here? That astrology is somewhat useful?

The answer is certainly video games affect perception of reality. I've been driving down the road myself, dark empty road at night, and had some of the same impulses I have waiting for the next "event" in a video game.

Sep 14, 2009

I can only speak from experience, but one bad cognitive effect video games have on me is a reduction of my attention span. It's like induced ADD when I play for too many hours in a week or something. Some games are worse than others for me. First person shooters fry my brain, to the point where I feel like my eyeballs are shaking. RTS games don't seem to affect me as much. On the other hand, RTS games mentally tire me more quickly.

Aside from that, gaming (like any other activity) is open to comparative evaluation. Is gaming going to promote more cognitive development than an hour of reading? Maybe or maybe not. Could depend on the game mechanics involved or the cognitive measure you're using. But judgment should be reserved until the testing is done.

Sep 15, 2009
Video games are a social experience. Kids play online together, they sit at home and play together or agaist each other on the console.

Yes, and what do social experiences like online video games produce? I submit for you, as an example of what kind of social skills are bred into MMORPG addicts.

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