Playing Video Games While Young Enhances Working Memory And Inhibitory Control, Says Study

Video games are often blamed for attention deficit disorder and bad behavior among teens, yet a new study from researchers at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya in Spain shows that adults who played video games as children often have improved memory skills, regardless of whether they continue to play as they age.

“People who were avid gamers before adolescence, despite no longer playing, performed better with the working memory tasks, which require mentally holding and manipulating information to get a result,” said study co-author Marc Palaus, Ph.D.

The study evaluated 27 people between the ages of 18 and 40. Some had played video games as children, while others had not. Initially, researchers wanted to test if playing video games along with engaging in ten transcranial magnetic stimulation sessions over the course of a month would improve participants’ cognitive skills and memory strength.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive brain stimulation technique that uses magnetic fields to stimulate cranial nerve cells, is often used to treat severe depression. The researchers theorized that a combination of TMS and video gaming would increase subjects’ long-term cognitive and memory skills.

“It uses magnetic waves which, when applied to the surface of the skull, are able to produce electrical currents in underlying neural populations and modify their activity,” Palaus said. “We aimed to achieve lasting changes. Under normal circumstances, the effects of this stimulation can last from milliseconds to tens of minutes. We wanted to achieve improved performance of certain brain functions that lasted longer than this.”

The results revealed no improved cognitive performance for participants who played Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64 for a month. The study’s authors, however, did identify that participants who had played video games as children were able to complete assessments that measure working memory and inhibitory control more quickly and score higher than those who had not.

In addition, adults who had gamed as children had a greater capacity to process 3D objects at the start of the study. Researchers concluded that video games manage to retain players’ attention and entice them to keep playing even as the difficulty level increases, allowing participants to remain engaged and challenged.

“These two things are enough to make it an attractive and motivating activity, which, in turn, requires constant and intense use of our brain’s resources,” Palaus said. “Video games are a perfect recipe for strengthening our cognitive skills, almost without our noticing.”

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