Video Games: The Brain’s Favorite Pastime
From plastering on a poker face behind splayed cards to bending over backwards to narrowly miss skimming a limbo pole, we are innately drawn to playing games. In the modern era, where technology rules our minds and eyes, a new form of play has emerged: video games. Inherent with every new technology, fears are voiced and the innovation is questioned. Video games may appear detrimental to our minds and bodies, since playing can involve remaining sedentary for stretches of time and staring mindlessly at a screen. Surprisingly, this indulgence is far from a mindless undertaking. Although video games won’t transform mental abilities from that of Forrest Gump’s to Albert Einstein’s, they do indeed lead to cognitive benefits.
Driving around and shooting prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto might not seem the epitome of a positive neural reward, yet almost all video games provide players with chemical changes in the brain. Dopamine surges throughout the brain upon playing electronic games, in a similar manner to the way in which recreational drugs induce stimulation. Our minds are predisposed to find neural pleasure in the act of playing video games. These brain chemicals that are released are involved in brain plasticity, which involves learning abilities. Scientifically, it makes sense why many parents choose to introduce their young children to educational games like Leap Frog. Achieving goals in-game releases dopamine, in turn helping plasticize the brain which leads to easier learning.
Researchers from the American Journal of Play devised a study to test the effects of playing video games. All participants were originally non-gamers. Some were instructed to play certain video games for specified periods of time, while others played none at all. Each individual was then tested in a variety of areas that deal with video game playing. Those who played the games experienced marked improvement in the areas of cognitive and perceptual abilities, while the rest did not. For instance, the players achieved an increase in visual sensitivity, able to differentiate shades of gray with increased accuracy. Scores on the Multi-Attribute Task Battery, the test used for training pilots, improved. A Nintendo Wii was introduced in nursing homes in a separate study, where the elderly participants played games like Wii Sports and achieved improvement on cognitive tests.
A common notion in the history of psychology was that intelligence is largely set in stone and determined by our genes. If we were to ask psychologists of the past why we lack intelligence, they would likely tell us that we must be an idiot because our parents are idiots. However, the research pertaining to video games has helped to change this sentiment. Cognitive scientists are realizing that our brains are much more moldable than previously thought, and have even started using their expertise to develop neuroscience based games. The idea that simply partaking in video games can improve a pilot’s flying abilities or slow down the mental decay in nursing homes is rather counterintuitive, but these findings are removing the negative and doubtful lens through which this form of entertainment is usually viewed.
NEW SOURCE: Gray, Peter. “Cognitive Benefits of Playing Video Games.” Psychology Today. N.p., 20 Feb. 2015. Web. 03 Nov. 2015
NEW SOURCE: Eichenbaum, Adam, Daphne Bavelier, and C. Shawn Green. “Video Games.” SpringerReference (2011): n. pag. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.
“Therapeutic Video Game, “Project: EVO” Makes Headlines.” Autism Speaks. N.p., 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.