More Than Just a Pastime: How Video Games Change Your Brain

Editor’s Note: This summer we have two communications interns working with us to write stories about research at the hospital and their experiences being part of the hospital community. This is a post by our intern Shika Lakshman, a student at Emerson College .

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Video games. We all play them, whether it’s Candy Crush on the way to work, or hours-long sessions of Call of Duty.

So when I recently read an article about a new research study detailing the positive and negative effects of playing video games, I decided to follow up. According to the lead author of the study, Marc Palaus, “It’s likely that video games have both positive (on attention, visual and motor skills) and negative aspects (risk of addiction), and it is essential we embrace this complexity”.

Paulus and a team of researchers from Catalonia University and Massachusetts General Hospital recently conducted an assessment of research studies looking at how brains change as a result of playing video games.

What did they find? Video games can change how you pay attention, improving sustained and selective attentions. It also means that the areas in the brain responsible for attention need less stimuli to activate. Additionally, video games can physically  change the structure of your brain, making the parts of your brain responsible for visuospatial skills bigger and more efficient.

So, video games make it easier for gamers to focus on specific stimuli (like games) for longer periods of time, while also allowing for better recognition of shapes, from faces to cars to trees. That’s the good part.

However, as you’ve probably heard, video games can also be addictive. It’s not just something your mom said to get you to do your homework, it’s called “internet gaming disorder”. It mostly affects men, ages 12-20, and primarily in Asia.

Addictive disorders can also cause structural changes to the brain, and gaming addictions are no different. The neural rewards system in your brain can be affected by “cravings” stemming from video games, and researchers say they are the same changes that other addictions cause.

Shika

What does the research tell us? From what I can gather, most video game studies are slanted towards reinforcing the idea that “video games are bad, they cause violence, antisocial behavior, etc.”

I wanted to get a more balanced opinion. So, I did what anyone my age would do: I posted on Facebook, and hoped for responses. I made a survey, asking people about their opinions on video games and some of the study results, and most responded positively.

A few respondents said video games helped them learn English. Many said it allowed them to make friends, and others said it helped with anxiety, stress and their mental wellbeing. Overall, people weren’t entirely shocked to learn that video games can physically change your brain, although they did think the positive effects of outweigh the negative ones. In fact, one respondent actually credited video games with healing a brain injury, “I have a brain injury that affects my coordination. Playing video games has helped me to regain back some of the hand-eye coordination that I feel like I lost.”

One respondent summed it up nicely. “As with anything, moderation is key. Sure, too much time in games stunts our social growth and tricks our brains into thinking we’ve accomplished things. But a moderate amount of time enjoying a favorite game and socializing with friends isn’t a negative thing”.

Here is the poll I used, thought it might be useful so people can see exactly what I asked: https://goo.gl/forms/sETvFUldAjZIPEKO2

What is your name? *

How old are you? *

What age did you start playing video games? *

How would you characterize your video game use? *

1 casual (mostly on your commute, only on your phone, etc.)

2

3

4

5 professional (you play/have played in competitions and/or earn money for playing)

Have you noticed any changes since you started playing video games, such as a change in attention span? *

How many hours a week do you spend playing video games? *

1-5

6-10

11-20

21+

If you selected 21+ above, please estimate the number of hours each week.

Would you be surprised if video games were physically changing your brain? *

Yes

No

Do you think there are more positive or negative effects of video games? *

Positive

Negative

They balance out

Any final thoughts on the effects of video games?

One Reply to “More Than Just a Pastime: How Video Games Change Your Brain”

  1. When someone writes an post he/she maintains the thought of a user in his/her brain that how a user can be aware of
    it. Therefore that’s why this article is amazing. Thanks!

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