Video games can get a bad rep as being a time waste, but can they actually have positive effects on brain functioning? A study published in Neuroimage: Reports suggests that video games can lead to increased decision-making skills and improvement in brain activities.
Video games may have a reputation as being a lazy activity, they can be very engaging for the brains of players due to their sensory rich and cognitively stimulating nature. Video game playing requires the ability to make quick decisions and pay attention to details while playing the game.
“Video games are played by the overwhelming majority of our youth more than three hours every week, but the beneficial effects on decision-making abilities and the brain are not exactly known,” said researcher Mukesh Dhamala, an associate professor in Georgia State’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and the university’s Neuroscience Institute.
Previous research has shown video game playing to be linked to improvements in working memory, attention, task switching, spatial resolution, and more. This study seeks to better understand the effects video game playing has on the brain.
The study included 47 participants. Participants needed to play 5 or more hours of video games a week to be considered video game players and any participant who played less than that was considered a non-video game player. Jordan and Dhamala recruited four categories of video game players based on the types of games they played including First-Person Shooter, Real-Time Strategy, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, and Battle Royale. Participants were given an fMRI and completed a modified left-right moving dots task while in the scan.
Results showed differences in brain and behavior responses to decision making between participants who were video game players and participants who were not. Video game players had increased accuracy in decision making and decreased response time. In brain regions associated with sensorimotor and cognitive processing, there were differences in activation between video game players and non-video game players, with video game players showing higher levels of signal change.
“These results indicate that video game playing potentially enhances several of the subprocesses for sensation, perception and mapping to action to improve decision-making skills,” the authors wrote. “These findings begin to illuminate how video game playing alters the brain in order to improve task performance and their potential implications for increasing task-specific activity.”
There was no trade-off between speed and accuracy of response — the video game players were better on both measures.
“This lack of speed-accuracy trade-off would indicate video game playing as a good candidate for cognitive training as it pertains to decision-making,” the authors wrote.
This study took steps into better understanding how playing video games can affect brain function. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that this study was not longitudinal, and it is possible that cognitive differences are due to other factors besides video game playing.
The study, “Video game players have improved decision-making abilities and enhanced brain activities“, was authored by Timothy Jordan and Mukesh Dhamala.