July 28, 2022 – Playing action video games appears to boost brain activity and decision-making skills.
In a study that coupled brain imaging with a decision-making task, college students who play video games regularly made faster and more accurate decisions than peers who rarely play video games.
"Video games are played by the overwhelming majority of our youth more than 3 hours every week, but the beneficial effects on decision-making abilities and the brain are not exactly known," lead investigator Mukesh Dhamala, PhD, of the Georgia State University Neuroscience Institute, said in a news release.
The new study begins to shed light on how video game playing can change the brain to improve task performance, said Dhamala and GSU co-investigator Timothy Jordan, PhD.
The researchers recruited 47 college students: 28 of whom reported playing action video games for at least 5 hours per week over the past 2 years, and 19 non-gamers who averaged less than 1 hour per week.
During brain imaging, they were given a computerized decision-making task. They were asked to press a button in their right or left hand to indicate the direction dots were moving or resist pressing either button if there wasn’t any movement.
The video gamers were faster and more accurate with their responses than the non-gamers. The gamers also had stronger activity in some parts of the brain.
"This has not been shown before," Dhamala and Jordan say.
Previous brain imaging studies have suggested there might be benefits from video games on attention, visual perception, and memory, but a clear behavior-brain relation and the effects in decision-making processes were lacking.
Jordan wasn’t surprised by the results of the study.
As a child, he had weak vision in one eye. As part of a research study when he was about 5 years old, he covered his good eye and played video games to strengthen the vision in the weak one.
Jordan credits video game training with helping to build a strong capacity for his brain to process what he saw, allowing him to eventually play lacrosse and paintball.
Stephen Faraone, PhD, with State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, is also not surprised by the findings.
"Playing video games can alter the brain in a manner that improves some cognitive skills," he says, after having seen the results.
The caveat, he says, is that no well-designed clinical trial has shown that these changes in the brain lead to improvements in real-world skills, like school performance.
It’s also unclear how long one must train with video games to gain new decision-making skills.
"As with all other things, it must be done in moderation. Playing too much can sometimes lead to addiction just like anything that affects our brains, especially young people’s developing brains," Dhamala and Jordan say.