Study: 1st-Person Shooters Reduce Brain Matter; Platformers, VR Increase Brain Matter

posted on by Jennifer Sherman

Games and experiences that rely on virtual reality technology are on the rise. Video game centers and internet cafes are also evolving to cater to the new video game market. With the popularity of advanced forms of video games only growing, many people remain interested in the effects on the brain that result from playing video games.

Researchers from the Université de Montréal and McGill University published an article titled "Impact of video games on plasticity of the hippocampus" in the Molecular Psychiatry scientific journal on August 8. The article includes the results of the group's study that focused on first-person shooter (FPS), platform, virtual-reality, and action video games and their effects on the hippocampus in the human brain. The article's abstract states:

The hippocampus is critical to healthy cognition, yet results in the current study show that action video game players have reduced grey matter within the hippocampus. A subsequent randomised longitudinal training experiment demonstrated that first-person shooting games reduce grey matter within the hippocampus in participants using non-spatial memory strategies. Conversely, participants who use hippocampus-dependent spatial strategies showed increased grey matter in the hippocampus after training. A control group that trained on 3D-platform games displayed growth in either the hippocampus or the functionally connected entorhinal cortex. A third study replicated the effect of action video game training on grey matter in the hippocampus. These results show that video games can be beneficial or detrimental to the hippocampal system depending on the navigation strategy that a person employs and the genre of the game.

The study's results suggest that playing video games may have positive or negative effects on the brain depending on genre and gameplay style. People who play FPS games such as Call of Duty or Borderlands frequently may have reduced grey matter within their hippocampal systems. On the other hand, people who play platformers such as Super Mario Bros. or VR-based games may increase their grey matter with frequent play. Games that require spatial awareness are more likely to increase grey matter. Games that rely more on the caudate nucleus can encourage the brain to operate more on "autopilot" and thus reduce grey matter.

A reduction in grey matter in the hippocampus has previously been linked to increased risks for depression, schizophrenia, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Alzheimer's disease.

Despite the risk of decreased brain matter from certain types of gaming, benefits of playing video games can outweigh negative effects in some cases. Gregory West, one of the researchers from Université de Montréal, said "Video games have been shown to benefit certain cognitive systems in the brain, mainly related to visual attention and short-term memory." Gamers will have to continue to evaluate their gaming lifestyles to consider the possible impact on their brains.

[Via HotHardware, VR Inside]

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