Video gaming is obviously a common medium of entertainment, with video gamers spending 3 billion hours a week in front of their computers. Thanks to their common use, scientists have studied how video games affect the brain and behavior. Studies studying how computer games can affect the brain have found that they can induce differences in multiple brain areas.
Scientists have gathered and outlined research on how video games can influence our minds and actions. Analysis to date suggests that playing video games will shift the brain regions responsible for attention and visual-spatial skills and make them more effective. Researchers have looked at experiments investigating brain areas involved with the dopamine system and how they contribute to video game addiction.
A growing body of evidence, however, shows that video gaming can affect the brain and, furthermore, cause changes in many regions of the brain.
Are you playing video games? If so, maybe you’re not lonely. Playing games are becoming more and more popular and are increasingly embraced by adults. The average age of the players has risen and is projected to be 35 in 2016. Changing technologies also ensure that more users are being drawn to video games. Many dedicated gamers play on personal computers or consoles, but a new wave of casual gamers have arisen, who play on smartphones and tablets at spare moments during the day, like their morning ride. So, we know that video games are an increasingly popular source of entertainment, but are they having any impact on our brains and behavior?
Over the years, the media have made numerous sensationalist statements about computer games and their effect on our health and enjoyment. “Games have sometimes been praised or demonized, often without real data backing up those claims. Moreover, gaming is a popular activity, so everyone seems to have strong opinions on the topic,” says Marc Palaus, the first study author recently published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Palaus and his collaborators wanted to see if any patterns had arisen from the studies to date into how video games influence the structure and operation of our brains. The findings were obtained from 116 research experiments, 22 of which looked at systemic changes in the brain and 100 looked at changes in brain functioning and/or actions.
Studies suggest that playing video games will affect the way our brains work, and also their structure. For example, playing video games has an effect on our focus, and some experiments have shown that gamers display gains in a variety of forms of attention, such as sustained attention or selective attention. Brain areas involved in focus are often more effective in gamers and need less stimulation to retain attention to challenging activities.
Video gaming, the experience of playing video sports, has demonstrated a range of benefits to human wellbeing. There is also evidence that video games can improve the size and productivity of brain regions linked to visual-spatial abilities. For example, the right hippocampus has been applied to all long-term players and volunteers in a video game training curriculum.
Video games may also be addictive, and this form of addiction is termed “Internet gaming disorder.” Researchers have established functional and physiological differences in the neural reward system of gaming addicts, partially by introducing them to gaming cues that trigger cravings and by tracking their neural reactions. Such neural alterations are exactly the same as those found in other addiction conditions.
So, what do all these shifts in the brain mean? “We focused on how the brain reacts to video game exposure, but these effects do not always translate to real-life changes,” Palaus says. Since video games are still very recent, research into their results is still in its infancy. For example, we’re still finding out what elements of the game’s influence which brain regions and how. “It’s likely that video games have both positive (on attention, visual and motor skills) and negative aspects (risk of addiction), and it is essential we embrace this complexity,” Palaus says.