How video gaming can be beneficial for the brain

October 30, 2013, Max Planck Society
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.

Explore further: Frequent gamers have brain differences, study finds

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

Related Stories

Frequent gamers have brain differences, study finds

November 15, 2011
Fourteen-year-olds who were frequent video gamers had more gray matter in the rewards center of the brain than peers who didn't play video games as much - suggesting that gaming may be correlated to changes in the brain, ...

Seniors who play video games report better sense of emotional well-being

March 5, 2013
New research from North Carolina State University finds that older adults who play video games report higher levels of emotional well-being.

Beyond the beat-em-up: Video games are good for young people

August 30, 2013
Research and media attention has usually focused on possible negative impacts of video games. But a clear case to support such links is yet to emerge and even people who argue that video games have a negative impact acknowledge ...

Video game addiction needs standard definition

April 19, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Researchers at the University of Adelaide say treatment for people affected by video game "addiction" would be improved if a standard definition of the problem were adopted by psychologists.

Playing video games can boost brain power, another study says

August 21, 2013
Certain types of video games can help to train the brain to become more agile and improve strategic thinking, according to scientists from Queen Mary University of London and University College London (UCL).

Violent video games alter brain function in young men

November 30, 2011
A functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis of long-term effects of violent video game play on the brain has found changes in brain regions associated with cognitive function and emotional control in young adult ...

Recommended for you

New genetic clues to early-onset form of dementia

December 13, 2018
Unlike the more common Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia tends to afflict young people. It accounts for an estimated 20 percent of all cases of early-onset dementia. Patients with the illness typically begin to ...

Video game players frequently exposed to graphic content may see world differently

December 13, 2018
People who frequently play violent video games are more immune to disturbing images than non-players, a UNSW-led study into the phenomenon of emotion-induced blindness has shown.

Increased motor activity linked to improved mood

December 12, 2018
Increasing one's level of physical activity may be an effective way to boost one's mood, according to a new study from a team including scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in collaboration with the ...

Length of eye blinks might act as conversational cue

December 12, 2018
Blinking may feel like an unconscious activity, but new research by Paul Hömke and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, suggests that humans unknowingly perceive eye blinks as nonverbal cues when ...

High-dose antipsychotics place children at increased risk of unexpected death

December 12, 2018
Children and young adults without psychosis who are prescribed high-dose antipsychotic medications are at increased risk of unexpected death, despite the availability of other medications to treat their conditions, according ...

How bullying affects the brain

December 12, 2018
New research from King's College London identifies a possible mechanism that shows how bullying may influence the structure of the adolescent brain, suggesting the effects of constantly being bullied are more than just psychological.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.2 / 5 (13) Oct 30, 2013
So using your brain makes it better, who would have guessed?
1 / 5 (1) 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.
3.5 / 5 (2) Oct 30, 2013
I wonder if different genera of games will show different results.
2.8 / 5 (18) 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
1.4 / 5 (11) 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.
3 / 5 (2) 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.
1 / 5 (2) 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.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.