Enhanced brain connectivity observed in frequent StarCraft II players

New research has found that frequent players of the real-time strategy video game StarCraft II have greater connectivity between regions of the brain associated with visuospatial cognition. The findings appear in the journal Human Brain Mapping.

“I am interested in neuroplasticity as the ability of the nervous system to adapt to the requirements of the environment. In this context, the brain is the source of behavior, but it is also modified under the influence of various experiences. Nowadays, it appears that action video games seem to be a good candidate for stimulating neuroplasticity,” said study author Natalia Kowalczyk of the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities.

The study used diffusion tensor imaging to compare the structural brain connectivity of 31 frequent StarCraft II players to a control group of 31 men who had played less than 6 hours of real-time strategy games.

The frequent players had played real-time strategy games at least 6 hr/week for the past 6 months and played StarCraft II for more than 60% of total game play time.

The two groups did not differ in overall structural connectivity. But the researchers observed enhanced connectivity between occipital and parietal brain regions among the StarCraft II players.

Those who played StarCraft II more often tended to have a greater number of connections between occipital and parietal regions, which could reflect enhanced visual and spatial information processing.

“Our results indicate that long-term and extensive RTS game players have alterations along axons that link structures of the occipito-parietal loop involved in spatial and visual processing in comparison to non-players,” Kowalczyk told PsyPost. “This finding sheds a new light on the understanding how structural connectivity is affected by long-term RTS video game experience.”

The study — like all research — has some limitations.

“We cannot determine whether the structural differences between the RTS and NVGP groups were the result of extensive video-game experience or because RTS players have brain structure characteristics that predispose them to play such video games,” Kowalczyk explained.

“It could be the case that people with specific brain characteristics such as enhanced connectivity within regions related to visual and spatial functions, are able to deal with high game play speed, visual search and quick responses, and that is why they decided to play RTS games. Future longitudinal studies with training of non-players would be necessary to determine causality.”

The study, “Real-time strategy video game experience and structural connectivity – A diffusion tensor imaging study“, was authored by Natalia Kowalczyk, Feng Shi, Mikolaj Magnuski, Maciek Skorko, Pawel Dobrowolski, Bartosz Kossowski, Artur Marchewka, Maksymilian Bielecki, Malgorzata Kossut, and Aneta Brzezicka.