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MRI: Video Games Make Brain Areas Bigger

October 31, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Playing video games can be good for your brain. Or at least, according to an article published Tuesday in Molecular Psychiatry, playing video games seems to increase the size of brain regions responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation, strategic planning, and fine motor skills.

So gamers aren’t wasting time. They’re giving their brains a workout.

Or both.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charité University Medicine/St. Hedwig Hospital, all in Berlin, asked adults to play the venerable Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day over two months. MRI brain scans revealed that, compared to the control group, the gamers showed increases in gray matter in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex, and cerebellum.

“While previous studies have shown differences in brain structure of video gamers, the present study can demonstrate the direct causal link between video gaming and a volumetric brain increase,” said study leader and lead author Simone Kühn, PhD, PD. Dr. Kühn continued:

This proves that specific brain regions can be trained by means of video games.

Dr. Kühn is a senior scientist at the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Planck Institute. She was quoted in a Planck news release.

Next, the researchers plan to explore whether video games might be therapeutically helpful for patients with mental disorders that involve the alteration or reduction in size of brain areas. Such diseases include schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“Many patients will accept video games more readily than other medical interventions,” said Jürgen Gallinat, senior author of the study and a psychiatrist at Charitié. The more one enjoys the game, the more helpful it seems to be: the study found that participants who reported greater desire to play the game exhibited greater increase in gray matter.

Researchers are currently studying the effects of video gaming in the treatment of PTSD. We’ll keep an eye out for the results.

Related CME seminar (up to 29 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): Neuroradiology Review

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