Video games are good for the brain, boosting grey matter

29 Apr 2015

Video games are good for the brain, boosting grey matter and connectivity

It follows a long line of research that casts aside the myth that ‘video games melt your brain’, so no need to fret that you’re spending too long playing Doom, or Wolfenstein 3D – my gaming ended quite a while ago.

Although this was purely a study on action video games (AVG), rather than strategy games such as Command & Conquer, there has been a shift across the board.

For example, Football Manager, the king of strategy games – by which we mean games that look like ridiculous streams of numbers, not unlike the old Matrix poster, to those who do not play – was pencilled in to be on a curriculum in Scottish schools last year.

This latest report comes from a team of researchers from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China and Macquarie University in Sydney, who performed MRI scans on a couple of dozen gamers while they played.

They found increased activity in the insular cortex of the brain, which is typically linked with strong cognitive function.

By comparing amateur gamers to experts, the study found that the better players had enhanced functional connectivity and grey matter in insular cortex sub-regions.

“Furthermore, AVG experts exhibited increased functional connectivity between the attentional and sensorimotor networks, and the experience-related enhancement was predominantly evident in the left insula, an understudied brain area,” said the report, which was published in Scientific Reports.

Previous work had shown that AVG experts showed improved selective attention on tasks of “flanker compatibility, enumeration”, a better field of view and “attentional blink”.

The ‘experts’ in this report were those who had won regional and national championships in League of Legends or DOTA2. The amateurs did not play AVG habitually and had less than one-year of AVG experience.

This report underlines that gaming isn’t bad for your brain, with grey matter not just more prominent in those who dedicate more time and attention to gaming, but connectivity between different parts of the brain is also increased.

Although maybe this report merely shows that those who enjoy greater amounts of grey matter become better gamers – the old chicken and egg argument.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic