Video games can grow the human brain

Playing video games can grow regions of the brain that would benefit patients with neurological problems.
Written by David Worthington, Contributor on
Playing Mario 64 30 minutes daily for two months produced changes in the brains of research subjects

Playing video games could make the grey matter in your brain bigger.

A study published in Molecular Psychiatry reported changes in brain tissue of volunteers who played Mario 64 on Nintendo's portable DS system daily for two months. Researchers observed growth in the bilateral hippocampus and some regions of the right prefrontal cortex. Those parts of the brain are thought to have a role in memory, navigation, processing visual information, and problem solving.

"Video game training augments GM in brain areas crucial for spatial navigation, strategic planning, working memory and motor performance going along with evidence for behavioral changes of navigation strategy," the study abstract says.

Playing games won't necessarily make you smarter, but could be useful in treating patients who have certain mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia. People with neurodegenerative disease may also benefit.

"While previous studies have shown differences in brain structure of video gamers, the present study can demonstrate the direct causal link between video gaming and a volumetric brain increase. This proves that specific brain regions can be trained by means of video games", says study leader Simone Kühn, senior scientist at the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

Organizations such as the U.S. government's National Institute on Aging (a part of the NIH) already recommend playing demanding video games to prevent or delay cognitive decline. Other brain stimulating activities such as reading, speaking a second language, writing and puzzles can have similar benefits, according to studies.

However, research also shows that so-called brain-training games don't work. Several companies say that specialized designed games will improve overall intelligence and brain function; the peer review process has produced skepticism.

Nintendo is one of the companies that will cite some previous research to promote the effectiveness of its "brain training games". I couldn't find a clear link to any involvement by Nintendo in the Molecular Psychiatry study.

(image credits: modojo.com, Wikipedia)

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