Brain waves reveal video game aptitude

October 24, 2012
Those whose brain waves oscillated most powerfully in the alpha spectrum (about 10 times per second) when measured at the front of the head (left EEG readout) tended to learn at a faster rate than those whose brain waves oscillated with less power (readout on the right), the researchers found. Credit: Kyle Mathewson

Scientists report that they can predict who will improve most on an unfamiliar video game by looking at their brain waves.

They describe their findings in a paper in the journal Psychophysiology.

The researchers used electroencephalography (EEG) to peek at in the brains of 39 study subjects before they trained on Space Fortress, a video game developed for cognitive research. The subjects whose brain waves oscillated most powerfully in the alpha spectrum (about 10 times per second, or 10 hertz) when measured at the front of the head tended to learn at a faster rate than those whose brain waves oscillated with less power, the researchers found. None of the subjects were daily video game players.

The was a robust predictor of improvement on the game, said University of Illinois and Beckman Fellow Kyle Mathewson, who led the research with psychology professors and Beckman Institute faculty members Monica Fabiani and Gabriele Gratton.

"By measuring your brain waves the very first time you play the game, we can predict how fast you'll learn over the next month," Mathewson said. The EEG results predicted about half of the difference in learning speeds between study subjects, he said.

The waves of electrical activity across the brain reflect the communication status of millions or billions neurons, Mathewson said.

"By measuring your brain waves the very first time you play the game, we can predict how fast you'll learn over the next month," Mathewson said. The EEG results predicted about half of the difference in learning speeds between study subjects, he said.

The waves of electrical activity across the brain reflect the communication status of millions or billions neurons, Mathewson said.

"These oscillations are the language of the brain, and different represent different brain functions," he said.

The researchers also found that learning to play the game improved subjects' reaction time and working memory (the ability to hold a piece of information in mind just until it is needed), skills that translate to everyday life.

"We found that the people who had more in response to certain aspects of the game ended up having the best improvement in and the best improvement in working memory," Mathewson said.

This project is a part of a larger collaborative effort to determine whether measures of brain activity or brain structure can predict one's ability to learn a new . One analysis, led by Beckman Institute director Art Kramer (an author on this study as well), found that the volume of specific structures in the brain could predict how well people would perform on Space Fortress. That study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the relative sizes of different brain structures.

But MRI is expensive and requires that subjects lie immobile inside a giant magnet, Mathewson said. With EEG, researchers can track brain activity fairly inexpensively while subjects are engaged in a task in a less constricted, less artificial environment, he said.

The new findings offer tantalizing clues to the mental states that appear to enhance one's ability to perform complex tasks, Mathewson said. Alpha waves are associated with relaxation, but they also are believed to arise when one is actively inhibiting certain cognitive functions in favor of others, he said. It is possible that everyone could benefit from interventions to increase the strength of their alpha waves in the front of the brain, a region associated with decision-making, attention and self-control.

"You can get people to increase their alpha by giving them some positive feedback," Mathewson said. "And so you could possibly boost this kind of activity before putting them in the game."

Explore further: It's not solitaire: Brain activity differs when one plays against others

More information: Psychophysiology DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.2012.01474.x

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4 comments

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Lurker2358
3 / 5 (2) Oct 24, 2012
Please do a study like this on Starcraft 2 players.

Pick 10 players from the bottom of Bronze, 10 players from each league boundary (5 from the top and 5 from the bottom) and 10 players from the top of Grand Master and do scans of their brains as the play one another in all combinations:

Same league vs same league.

Higher leagues vs lower leagues.

I am interested in what makes some starcraft players learn so fast and be able to multitask so much and become nearly invincible players, while other player can practice for years and never get any better, even though they are very smart and understand the tactics and mechanics very well.

As far as I know, there was only one study done on this, and it was insufficient, because it involved only one pro gamer and one casual gamer. My plan was to have a "multi-control" system by having players of each major skill gap level not only play one another, but play those of other leagues.

Needs about 80 players to be scientific enough.
jselin
5 / 5 (1) Oct 24, 2012
^Lurker,

Email a few researchers working in the field and present your idea. Chances are someone will be interested enough to seek funding if they aren't too busy. Somebody has to get the ball rolling...
Lurker2358
3 / 5 (2) Oct 24, 2012
^Lurker,

Email a few researchers working in the field and present your idea. Chances are someone will be interested enough to seek funding if they aren't too busy. Somebody has to get the ball rolling...


Well, the insulting thing about the only study I know of is that that allegedly the pro gamer wasn't even thinking about what he was doing. He was allegedly, according to the scans, "Playing instinctively," which is a laughing stock since it's supposed to be a strategy game.

This leads to two possible conclusions:

1, Either he's so much better/more intelligent than normal people that playing is effortless for him.

or

2, Starcraft actually isn't a strategy game, and turns out to be some sort of reflexes and "brute force" multi-tasking game, in which executing a shitty strategy well is more important than executing a much better strategy less well, which probably isn't far from the truth after all.

How can you strategize if you aren't actually thinking about it?
Lurker2358
3 / 5 (2) Oct 24, 2012
Oh yeah, I wouldn't know who to email about it, or how to get their email. I wish I did though.

Plus if I knew who to email about it I'd volunteer for brain research anyway, because I'm interested in many issues I have, not the least of which is pathetic, worsening APM in RTS games, but also certain borderline "Aspergers-like" symptoms.

And just as an example, day before yesterday there was a brain research program on television where they did a match-sticks equation experiment on a test subject, where he had to correct the equation by moving one stick. At some point, they threw him for a loop with a trick problem which he could not solve. I solved it almost instantly. Well they shocked his brain and then he saw the correct answer afterwards.

They claimed that people with Aspergers can solve such problems easier than normal. Yet another "symptom".

I've never had an MRI or EEG, and definitely not while performing a cognitive task, but that's just what's needed for these studies.

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