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How do video games change the brain? Scientists have answered



Gamer laying on the floor touching game pad

The debate about the impact of video games on children, teenagers, and adults has long reached a new level – scientific. Researchers have found evidence of the benefits of virtual entertainment. While parents often express concerns that their children waste time on “stupid video games” and fear this may hinder intellectual development, a recent study by scientists from the University of Houston found no link between brain development and video game addiction in primary school students. This study revealed that neither the length of the gaming sessions nor the genre influenced the results of standardized tests of cognitive ability.

Interestingly, the study also highlighted that while video games generally stimulate brain activity beneficially in teenagers and adults, they did not have the same effect on children under twelve. Furthermore, games that are marketed as educational did not show a positive impact on this younger group. This indicates that for young children, despite their attraction to all things digital, educational games might not be as effective as their developers claim. However, as children grow older, engaging in interactive and strategically challenging games can enhance cognitive functions, similar to how adults benefit from complex gaming environments.

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Games develop perception

Earlier, an international group of experts studied the results of 116 studies from around the world on the impact of video games on the work and structure of the brain. It turned out that gamers have higher performance in selective and sustained attention. The corresponding parts of the brain work more efficiently than those who are not interested in video entertainment. This makes it easier for them to stay focused on complex tasks.

In addition, gamers are better by eye at determining the size of objects, as well as the distance and relationship between them. The areas of the brain responsible for visual-spatial perception are enlarged.


First-person shooters increased the reaction speed of people who played them for just an hour a day for several weeks in a study by 10 per cent. Such games helped people make better decisions in stressful situations. And the positive effect was maintained for two years.

French neuroscientist Daphne Bavelier, professor at the University of Geneva, is convinced that shooters, action games and real-time strategies with a large number of different elements on the screen increase neuroplasticity. And these types of games are much more successful in improving cognitive abilities than educational applications. The latter in general, as it turned out, practically do not work contrary to what is said in their description and advertising.

The fact is that in shooters players have to quickly process a large amount of information. When a new object appears on the screen gamer instantly determines whether it is a friend or an enemy, whether it is a danger or provides an opportunity to manoeuvre, what weapon and at what point should be used to avoid damage. And it is proved that shooters, action games and real-time strategies develop the speed of information processing absolutely everyone. This effect was not observed, for example, in those who played social games like The Sims.

What about addiction?

Video games can really cause problems. “Gaming disorder” is included in the 11th list of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). However, it has nothing to do with ludomania, a pathological addiction to gambling. Non-chemical addiction occurs only in a certain type of online games, which for the sake of gaining achievements must be entered every day. Gamers themselves describe this type of “rest” very accurately with three words: “like going to work”. Because they have a need to play not for fun, but because of the fear of missing a reward or falling in the rankings. Eventually, this leads to burnout, and the only thing that helps in this case is a change of game or complete abandonment of video entertainment.

But the connection between video games and the growth of violence in real life, many years of research has not revealed. Every year the number of such works only grows, and the tired thesis that “video games make children violent”, so none of the scientists could not convincingly prove.

On the contrary, there is more and more evidence that violent shooters or bloody action games reduce the aggressiveness of people, because they give the opportunity to release negative emotions without harming others. Moreover, when long-awaited game hits are released, the number of crimes drops. Bandits at this time hooliganise in virtual worlds, sitting at the computer or lying on the sofa with a gamepad in their hands.

The game is for all ages

For those over forty, real-time strategy games help to avoid or significantly delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Such games in the “old people” develop thinking and the ability to receive, filter, store, process and retrieve information in the head. However, physical activity in the fresh air is still preferable, scientists warn. Video games also help in the fight against depression. In this case again, shooters and action games have proved to be the best.

For teenagers, on the other hand, it proved to be a good way to build relationships with peers and parents, both online and in real life. Two out of three of the study subjects learnt empathy from video games. A big surprise for many parents will also be the fact that games instil a love of books and improve reading skills. Again, however, we are only talking about games with text. Some have more text than War and Peace. Three out of five young players write a piece of writing about their hobby once a month, including scenarios (27.5 per cent), advice for other players (22.1 per cent), fanfics (10.8 per cent) and reviews of levels completed (8 per cent).

Of course, this does not mean that video games will necessarily cure illnesses without the intervention of a specialist, bring peace of mind or improve relationships at school or in the family. Especially games will never replace books or live dialogue. However, unnoticeably for us, they can really become an aid in life: to give emotional rest and train the brain.  It’s just that, as in any business, you need to know the measure.

Cognitive Benefits and Educational Potential of Video Games

Enhancing Learning through Play

While the debate about video games often centers around potential negatives, significant research points to their benefits in educational contexts. Studies have shown that certain video games can enhance problem-solving skills and promote learning in mathematics and science. These games often incorporate real-world challenges that require players to apply logical and strategic thinking, much like the scenarios encountered in more traditional learning environments. This suggests that when used correctly, video games can be a powerful tool for educational enhancement.

The Role of Video Games in Social and Emotional Learning

Video games also play a crucial role in social and emotional learning. Multiplayer games foster teamwork and communication among players, promoting social skills that are vital in everyday life. Furthermore, games that simulate real-life interactions can help players develop empathy and better understand different perspectives. This aspect of gaming is particularly beneficial for young people who are still developing these critical social skills.

By examining both the cognitive and social benefits of video games, it becomes evident that they hold significant potential beyond entertainment. As research continues to evolve, it may well redefine the educational landscape, integrating video games as key tools in learning methodologies.

Concluding Insights

Research on video games demonstrates their complex impact on cognitive, emotional, and social functions. Despite concerns about potential negatives, evidence largely supports the benefits of gaming, such as enhanced attention, better problem-solving abilities, and improved social skills.

Video games can be powerful educational tools, promoting engagement and learning more effectively than traditional methods in some cases. They also facilitate social development through multiplayer experiences, helping players enhance communication and empathy. This demonstrates that when managed appropriately, video games can offer significant advantages.

Moving forward, the key will be to leverage the positive aspects of gaming while addressing its challenges, to ensure that it serves as a beneficial addition to both educational environments and personal development. As video games continue to evolve, their role in shaping cognitive and social growth will likely expand, emphasizing the need for informed engagement with this dynamic medium.

Adam loves gaming and the latest Tech surrounding it, especially AI and Crypto Gaming are his fave topics

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