Research has constantly proven video games have wide varying effects on the brain.
There’s studies all over the place, each one conflicting with the next. Is gaming that significant on the brain? Good or bad? Though you might be surprised to know gaming can actually do a lot of good for the mental health of many.
But like everything, moderation is the key. Binging on anything from food to alcohol is likely to produce adverse results, and gaming is no different. No matter what the upsides are, a 40 hour straight session on Skyrim is likely to be anything but good for you.
So how exactly can gaming affect the way your brain works?
Positive Motivation…that can even beat cancer!
Playing a game usually requires motivation in three different ways:
These combine to give a game you want to keep playing. A high reward-related experience maximises positive health behaviour.
Active participation is the key ingredient however. Passive engagements are no good, which means just hearing or seeing what you are playing is no use. The player must have almost total input for the most motivation.
Active participation encourages the game to be a worthwhile activity and makes it a unique experience.
Reward-related gaming experiences has been used within the medical industry to fight cancer.
Re-Mission is a game that focuses on addressing the difficulties of cancer. The player assumes the control of an RXE-5 nanobot, whose goal is to fight cancer at the cellular level.
It’s design helps undergoing cancer treatment through positive behavioural and psychological associations.
It has shown:
- Increases of chemotherapy resistance and antibody production in patients
- Activation of brain circuits involved in positive motivation
- An astonishing figure of 80% of patients being helped by the game
Brain scans showed a larger ventral striatum from gaming, which is the central zone for the brain’s reward system, in regular gamers.
If games can be used to reinforce positive motivation within situations as difficult as cancer treatments, it can surely replicate that success in your average gamer.
Attention Spans – They’ll Be Getting Better!
Attention is measured by the how how we actively process specific information present in our environment. The common misunderstanding comes from how long we can keep our attention on something, though it covers much more than this.
The field has been somewhat divided when it comes to whether gaming is beneficial or not for your attention. But one thing is certain, it does affect it in some way.
Though some still argue attention decreases with more gaming, this view has been increasingly opposed in newer studies, citing the fact that people with low attention spans would rather play a game anyway.
More recent studies are starting to show games actually improve attention in good doses.
Though surprisingly, it is your action-packed Call of Duty esque shooters which show the most benefit. These games emphasise rapid responses and divided attention, whereas other games have shown less benefit. This is due to:
- The ability to resolve small detail in clutter makes for greater attention. Think of your typical first person shooter HUD:
- On-screen, you need to decipher and react quickly to weapon ammo, grenade counts, multiple targets, strategical possibilities and environmental factors. All the while trying to keep yourself from dying
- The ability to track multiple moving objects is greatly improved. Great for peripheral vision when driving. Though it seems we all have our limits – we can only track 8 moving objects at once
- The goal-orientated nature of video games provides rewards that improve the players’ ability to concentrate, favouring long-term attention spans.
- The Anterior Cingulate part of the brain, which locates and regulates attention in conflict, has also been tested to be most efficient in gamers.
- A greater volume of gray matter was found within gamers, indicating a higher number of brain cell bodies. Whether this was due to the games themselves or the type of people playing them remains indecisive.
Not convinced? Multimedia taskers (listening to music and work at the same time etc) need to the same abilities to keep concentration and attention.
Tests show that these people in fact are pretty bad at multitasking perception which is much more common in gaming, even though they were convinced they were actually good!
An Emotional Rollercoaster
Studies on the emotional aspects of gaming have been sketchy in the past with little scientific evidence, but it seems more and more likely that there is truth in a wide array of emotional states that gaming causes.
Violent games have come under scrutiny, with possible emotional effects including:
- Studies on violent video games have concluded superficially an increased aggression in players both short and long term. More brain activity has been seen when players were losing, more so than that of infrequent gamers.
- Powerful concentrations of neurotransmitters with dopamine-like strengthen increase in the ventral striatum, which as stated previously, is involved in the reward system of the brain. This has been attributed to addiction, similar to that of gambling and drug cravings. However, this may also be related to motivation and winning at a game.
- The rostral anterior cingulate cortex, which resolves emotional disturbances, showed less activity in violent games. This is accredited to suppressing emotional responses.
- Likewise, when a shot was fired in a first person shooter, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex activity was reduced, involved in cognitive control and planning.
However, it seems violent games should be taking most of the brunt, as depending on whether the game encouraged pro-social or violent aspects, people reacted accordingly, becoming more social or violent as a result.
A Minefield of Ambiguity
If that’s all a bit much, then check out this superb infographic of the different parts of the brain and gaming-related effects by Anson Alexander for a basic overview.
Hopefully, the stigma attached to gaming will come under further scrutiny as more and more studies show the benefits of video games.
It seems the debate on whether games affect the brain will continue to rage on. No one can deny that they have an effect. The exact ramifications for many of its supposed effects however, at least for the foreseeable future, will have opposition on both sides.
I highly recommend checking out Daphne Baveleir’s talk on your brain on video games and Raisesmartkid’s post on the positives and negatives of gaming.
One thing is looking certain though – it’s not all bad!