Published: Fri, August 11, 2017
Medical | By Garry George

Video games really do make your brain rot

Video games really do make your brain rot

'We found that it was indeed the gaming that led to changes in the brain, ' said Greg West, of Canada's Université de Montréal.

Before playing the games, the participants had to navigate through a "4-on-8" virtual maze on their computer, which allowed the researchers to determine whether they were spatial learners, who favored the hippocampus, or response learners, who relied on the reward system. "That's why we chose to do a full neuro-imaging study, scanning the brains of habitual players of action video games and comparing them to non-players, and what we saw was less grey matter in the hippocampus of habitual players". According to them, the human brain has major components called hippocampus, which is critical to healthy cognition and corresponds with the gray matter level in the brain.

"If action video games lead to decreases in grey matter in the hippocampus (of young adults), caution should be exerted when encouraging their use (by) children, young adults and older adults to promote cognitive skills such as visual short-term memory and visual attention", West suggested.

If you start losing grey matter from your hippocampus, you're putting yourself at risk of brain diseases and illnesses such as PTSD, Alzheimer's and even the likes of depression or schizophrenia.

The hippocampus is the key structure involved in spatial memory (orientation) and episodic memory (autobiographical events) within the brain, West said.

That blank stare you can often see on the face of a teenager playing video games might have real-life consequences.

But the same amount of time spent playing 3D Super Mario games increased grey matter in the hippocampi of all participants.

Those who played the Super Mario games, meanwhile, showed signs of growth in either the hippocampus or another part of the brain called the entorhinal cortex. However, they also concluded that more study is required to understand the "long term" impacts of this reduction on the mental health of gamers.

Response learners use counting, patterning and memorizing a series of actions to remember specific sequences along the way.

Yet, there's still hope for action video games, if we're willing to rework them to be less rote memorization and more challenging to navigate.

"Despite some wild headlines and press releases from time to time, the research suggests that video game playing is entirely safe for the brain", Ferguson said.

The study is published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. However, 90 hours of playing 3D games led to increased gray matter in all participants.

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