In a recent study conducted by the University of Montreal and McGill University in Canada, it was found that the kind of video game one plays can impact the brain learning and memory system.
The study shows that video games affect the hippocampal system of the brain. It is a region of the brain which is associated with spatial learning, memory and navigation. It is essential to having a healthy and sound mind.
Having lesser hippocampus may increase the risk of acquiring different mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, PTSD and Alzheimer’s disease.
The study had observed the hippocampal grey matter of 33 people who are either constant video game players and those who never played. They were asked about the strategies and patterns they use to navigate in the game.
The researchers noted the difference between spatial learners and response learners. Spatial learners are those who solve virtual reality tasks set in a maze by analyzing the relationship between the landmarks in the game and the target objects. Response learners on the other hand, are those who rely on counting, patterns, and remembering a series of actions and sequences of the game.
The study reveals that there is a big difference between people who are habitual action video game players and used response strategies greater and those people who rarely or never played video games. Video game players had lesser grey matter in the hippocampus of their brains.
Two further studies were conducted which involved 43 and 21 participants who underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) were given 90 hours of training on video games. They were trained on Call of Duty or Battlefield which are action video games, 3D-platform games like Super Mario 64 and action-role playing game like Dead Island.
After receiving training, there was an increase in the grey matter of those participants who used hippocampus-dependent spatial strategies. Growth was seen in either the hippocampus or the functionally connected entorhinal cortex area of the brain in the control group that trained on 3D-platform games.
The training resulted to an increase in the grey matter on those who employed hippocampus-dependent spatial strategies. It is seen in either the hippocampus or entorhinal cortex area, an area of the brain which is in the medial temporal lobe that functions like a hub in a widespread network. It is essential for memory and navigation.
Response-learners, however, have more decreased grey matter in the hippocampus compared to those participants who are spatial learners.
The result only shows that the kind of video game one plays impacts the brain greatly. It could be beneficial or detrimental to the hippocampal system of the brain. It all depends on the strategy the person applies while playing and the genre of the game itself.
Dr. Greg West, who is an associate professor at the University of Montreal, states that in-game GPS and way-finding routes overlaid on the display of many games directs players in the right direction easily without exerting effort to apply spatial strategies such as remembering the relationship between different landmarks.
He recommends that action video games designed without GPS or way-finding routes to guide players boosts the use of spatial memory and encourages to navigate using the hippocampus.
The result of the study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. It implies that people should be aware of how video games can also impact cognitive skills such as visual short-term memory and visual attention on both children and adults.
Dr West adds, “While cognitive training treatments that rely on action video games may promote better visual attention skills, the current results show that they may be associated with a reduction in hippocampal grey matter.”