Study finds gamers have enhanced working memory performance

New research has found a link between gaming and improvements in some aspects of cognitive functioning.

The study of adolescents and young adults found that those with more gaming experience tended to perform better on a test of working memory. The researchers found increased gaming experience was linked to improved response speed and the ability to monitor and update information in working memory.

Findings from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of 167 participants suggested that the improved working memory performance among gamers was caused by a “boost” in the fronto-parietal network of the brain when the task became more challenging.

The study, “Gaming is related to enhanced working memory performance and task-related cortical activity“, was published in the journal Brain Research.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Mona Moisala of the University of Helsinki, Finland. Read her explanation of the research below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Moisala: Our research group is interested in how different technology-mediated activities shape and interact with human cognition. This is an important area of research because the time we spend interacting with technology in our everyday lives is constantly increasing, but the possible effects this may have on brain functioning are not yet well understood. One of the technologically mediated activities that we have looked more carefully at is computer gaming.

Quite a lot of research already exists demonstrating that hard-core gamers outperform non-gamers in a variety of cognitive tasks, and also that training novices on games produces similar cognitive enhancements. We wanted to find out whether we could see positive associations between gaming and cognitive functioning already during adolescence, and even when our subjects did not represent hard-core gamers but rather the more average gaming teen.

In our sample of 167 Finnish adolescent and young adults participants we could indeed see that daily gaming activity was associated with better working memory task performance. Further, we could see differences related to gaming when we looked at activity in key brain regions related to executive functioning.

What should the average person take away from your study?

Gaming is often demonized and especially parents are often worried about what gaming does to teen brains. A vast amount of research has, however, shown that commercial games might actually act as a sort of a cognitive enhancement tool. This suggests that games cannot be considered detrimental to brain health. There are some critical caveats to consider here, however. The studies on gaming are always conducted in laboratories using very simplified cognitive tasks. They tell us very little about how well people function in everyday life, academically and so forth.

Furthermore, studies have shown that more is definitely not always better when it comes to gaming. When gaming becomes an addiction and takes time away from other activities that are crucial for brain health such as sleep and exercise, we no longer see any cognitive benefits of gaming.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

Our study only reveals that there is an association between gaming experience and working memory capabilities. It does not tell us whether games really train working memory, or whether individuals with higher cognitive capacity just tend to play more computer games. More studies using game training paradigms are therefore needed in order to determine the true nature of this phenomenon.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

More information about my research (in English) can be found here: