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fMRI Finds Video Gaming May Create Surgeons

September 27, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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People who play video games for hours a day aren’t slacking. They’re training to be surgeons.

So says a Canadian study. Well, actually, the study says that reorganization of the brain’s cortical network in young men with significant experience playing video games gives them an advantage in any task requiring visuomotor skills, not just video gaming.

Researchers at the Centre for Vision Research at York University in Toronto tested 13 men in their 20s who had played video games at least four hours a week for the previous three years and a control group of 13 men in the same age range who had instead wasted their time on such pursuits as studying, working, or interacting with actual human beings.

While in a functional MRI machine, the subjects were given a series of increasingly difficult visuomotor tasks, such as using a joystick or looking one way while reaching in a different direction.

“By using high-resolution brain imaging (fMRI), we were able to actually measure which brain areas were activated at a given time during the experiment,” said Lauren Sergio, PhD, as quoted in a news release. “We tested how the skills learned from video game experience can transfer over to new tasks, rather than just looking at brain activity while the subject plays a video game.”

Dr. Sergio is associate professor at the York University Faculty of Health.

The researchers found that the brains of the veteran gamers worked differently from those with less video game experience. During the tasks, the nongamers relied mostly on the parietal cortex (the brain area typically involved in hand-eye coordination), whereas the gamers showed increased activity in the prefrontal cortex—the “executive functions” part of the brain.

That difference in brain organization means that a gamer’s skills translate to any activity that requires disassociative visuomotor abilities. (Disassociative visuomotor tasks are those in which visual information received by the brain is disassociated from the required motor action, such as operating a video game controller while looking at a screen—or performing laparoscopic surgery.) The researchers said the finding that visuomotor activities can reorganize how the brain works opens possible therapy options for Alzheimer’s disease patients, who struggle with visuomotor tasks.

Lead author Joshua Granek, MS, said future research might examine whether the type of games or the number of hours of play affect the brain-pattern changes, and whether brain-pattern changes might differ in female gamers, whose brain patterns in earlier studies were different from those of males.

The study is published in the October edition of the journal Cortex.

Related seminar: Neuro & Musculoskeletal Imaging (just released this month)

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