This research proves that videogames are good for your brain in nearly every way

Whether playing video games has negative effects is something that has been debated for 30 years, in much the same way that rock and roll, television, and even the novel faced much the same criticisms in their time.

Purported negative effects such as addiction, increased aggression, and various health consequences such as obesity and repetitive strain injuries tend to get far more media coverage than the positives.

I know from my own research examining both sides that my papers on video game addiction receive far more publicity than my research into the social benefits of, for example, playing online role-playing games.

However there is now a wealth of research which shows that video games can be put to educational and therapeutic uses, as well as many studies which reveal how playing video games can improve reaction times and hand-eye co-ordination.

For example, research has shown that spatial visualisation ability, such as mentally rotating and manipulating two- and three-dimensional objects, improves with video game playing.

To add to this long line of studies demonstrating the more positive effects of video games is a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Vikranth Bejjanki and colleagues.

Their newly published paper demonstrates that the playing of action video games – the sort of fast-paced, 3D shoot-em-up beloved of doomsayers in the media – confirms what other studies have revealed, that players show improved performance in perception, attention, and cognition.

In a series of experiments on small numbers of gamers (10 to 14 people in each study), the researchers reported that gamers with previous experience of playing such action video games were better at perceptual tasks such as pattern discrimination than gamers with less experience.

In another experiment, they trained gamers that had little previous experience of playing action games, giving them 50 hours practice.

It was showed that these gamers performed much better on perceptual tasks than they had prior to their training. The paper concludes:

The enhanced learning of the regularity and structure of environments may act as a core mechanism by which action video game play influences performance in perception, attention, and cognition.

brain

In my own papers, I have pointed out many features and qualities that make video games potentially useful.

For instance, in an educational context, video games can be fun and stimulating, which means it’s easier to maintain a pupil’s undivided attention for longer. Because of the excitement, video games may also be a more appealing way of learning than traditional methods for some.

Video games have an appeal that crosses many demographic boundaries, such as age, gender, ethnicity, or educational attainment.

They can be used to help set goals and rehearse working towards them, provide feedback, reinforcement, self-esteem, and maintain a record of behavioural change.

Their interactivity can stimulate learning, allowing individuals to experience novelty, curiosity and challenge that stimulates learning.

There is the opportunity to develop transferable skills, or practice challenging or extraordinary activities, such as flight simulators, or simulated operations.

Because video games can be so engaging, they can also be used therapeutically. For instance, they can be used as a form of physiotherapy as well as in more innovative contexts.

A number of studies have shown that when children play video games following chemotherapy they need fewer painkillers than others.

Video games have great educational potential in addition to their entertainment value.

Games specifically designed to address a specific problem or teach a specific skill have been very successful, precisely because they are motivating, engaging, interactive, and provide rewards and reinforcement to improve.

But the transferability of skills outside the game-playing context is an important factor.

What’s also clear from the scientific literature is that the negative consequences of playing almost always involve people that are excessive video game players. There is little evidence of serious acute adverse effects on health from moderate play.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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  • Bernard Samartsev

    Interesting article. Yes, video games can improve our intelligence and mentality, and give us important skills and information. Almost everything can be taught by using a video game-type program. However, all students need practice in the real world. You have to spend a lot of time shooting live ammunition from a real gun in order to become a good shooter.

    Another danger is indoctrination. Assassin’s Creed games are not history books. Many young people already think that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality and race mixing, that homosexuals are “born that way”, that gender and race are “social constructs”, that “race is only skin deep”, that “unarmed society is a safe society”, that “whites invented slavery” and that “only whites can be racist”.

    The funny thing is that I keep calm where most gamers scream in anger and destroy their devices. I learned that we should not take video games way too seriously and that emotions are useless when it comes to solving a problem.

  • bengine

    A lot of confirmation bias going on here. Noone debates that video games help improve certain aspects of brain function (like reaction times – really necessary one that one) but what they ignore is the cost. They look only at what improves but not at what is taken away as a result. Objective studies that have looked at this have found completely different results – screen addition is now almost universally recognised and is reaching critical levels. Digital dementia another side effect of too much screen time. Decreased sleep time – which especially in children is having serious adverse effects, reduction in melatonin levels. None of that in the report.

    Not a very balanced (or responsible) article in my view – a case of the fox telling us the chickens are perfectly fine.

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