Video games can enhance decision-making skills, brain imaging study finds
A great deal of attention is often given to the negative effects of video games. Excessive game-playing can undoubtedly be detrimental for some people, taking time away from exercising and social activities, and disrupting sleep. But for several years researchers have discovered video games also have the capacity to generate a number of cognitive benefits.
A new study, from researchers at Georgia State University, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the effects video game playing has on brain activity during decision-making tasks. The researchers explain that, “since video game playing often demands rapidly utilizing incoming sensory information and precisely making decisions repeatedly, decision-making tasks are relevant for probing the effects of video-game playing.”
Just under 50 young subjects were recruited for the study, 28 were classified as regular video game players (more than five hours of gaming per week) and 19 were non players (less than one hour per week gaming). Inside the MRI machine the participants completed a motion categorization task designed to measure their decision-making ability.
The task involved watching two sets of different colored dots moving in opposite directions. After viewing the dots for two seconds the subjects would have to immediately respond with what direction they thought one specific color of dots were moving. They would have three seconds to respond before the task repeated. The task was designed to help evaluate how quickly the brain can process sensory information and make a decision in response.
From a straightforward behavioral perspective the researchers found the video game players were more accurate in their answers and faster to respond compared to the non-gamers. But more interestingly, the brain imaging data indicated the gamers also had different brain responses to the task.
“... this study demonstrated that video game players have improved performance on decision-making tasks and that these differences correlate to specific changes in the node and network activities in and across the lingual gyrus, the supplementary motor area and the thalamus,” the researchers concluded in the new study. “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 researchers indicate these findings raise the possibility of video games being used for cognitive training. The next step is to explore whether non-video game players could be exposed to a small volume of gaming as a test to find out whether decision-making brain responses are improved.
“These findings begin to illuminate how video game playing alter the brain in order to improve task performance and their potential implications for increasing task specific activity,” the study noted. “This study leads to not only a potential method of cognitive training, but also understanding how the training will affect the brain.”
Variations on these kinds of experiments have been conducted in the past. Notably a team from the University of Rochester tried something very similar about 10 years ago, albeit without the brain-imaging data.
That prior study recruited a number of non-gamers and split them into two groups. One group played 50 hours of first-person shooter games and the other group played 50 hours of slower-paced strategy games.
The whole cohort then completed a number of tasks designed to measure their decision-making skills. The study found those trained on the action games were 25 percent faster to respond in the decision-making test compared to the strategy gamers. And, perhaps more surprisingly, the action-trained gamers were just as accurate in their responses.
"It's not the case that the action game players are trigger-happy and less accurate: They are just as accurate and also faster," noted co-author Daphne Bavelier back in 2010. "Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference."
More recently a systematic review of 27 studies, published last year, found video games do improve cognitive skills and decision-making. However, that review did cautiously conclude that although there are brain training benefits to video gaming there are plenty of problems caused by excessive gaming. Ultimately, the review suggested there should be, “future research to develop video games which can be controlled by a teacher, in order to improve students cognitive learning.”
The new study was published in the journal Neuroimage: Reports.
Source: Georgia State University