Video games good for brain development

Video games let individual areas of the brain grow

Anyone who thought video games hit the brain was wrong. In fact, a recent study by the Max Planck Institute for Educational Research and the Charité Psychiatric University Clinic at St. Hedwig Hospital comes to the conclusion that video games even enlarge brain areas that are important for spatial orientation, memory formation, strategic thinking and fine motor skills. Accordingly, video games can have a positive impact on brain development. The researchers hope that the observed positive effect could also have an effect on the therapy of mental disorders.

In the name of science, the researchers let the adult study participants play the video game "Super Mario 64" for 30 minutes a day for two months. At the same time, they observed the effects of video games on the structure of the brain using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Here, compared to the control group, "in video game subjects an enlargement of some areas of the gray matter in which the cell bodies of the nerve cells of the brain are located", reports the Max Planck Institute.

Changed brain structures in video games
According to the researchers, the observed effect in the brain of the video game subjects was “the more pronounced the more fun the subjects had fun while playing.” The enlargement of the gray matter encompassed the right hippocampus, the prefrontal cortex and parts of the cerebellum. "These areas of the brain are of central importance for spatial orientation, memory formation, strategic thinking and fine motor skills of the hands," according to the Max Planck Institute. According to the study director Simone Kühn from the Developmental Psychology research department of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, previous studies already suggested "changed brain structures in video players", but could not prove this clearly. The current study has now succeeded in proving a direct connection between gaming and volume growth. This shows that "certain brain regions can be specifically trained by video games", continues Kühn.

Video games as therapy?
The scientists conclude that video games could be used specifically for the treatment of diseases in which the corresponding brain regions have changed. This is "the case for example with mental disorders such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's dementia." Therefore, further studies should now take a closer look at the effects of video games in people with mental disorders. "Many patients are more likely to accept video games than other medical interventions," said the co-study author Jürgen Gallinat of the Charité Psychiatric University Clinic at St. Hedwig Hospital. According to the Max Planck Institute, the therapeutic use of video games is "currently being tested in a study on post-traumatic stress disorder".

No general recommendation for video games
The concerns that have been expressed many times in the past about the negative effects of video games on brain development have been relatively clearly refuted by the current investigation. However, the fact remains that the lack of exercise in video games can have a negative effect on the general health of those affected. Because anyway, many young adults in Germany tend to be sedentary. A general recommendation for increased video games cannot be derived from the results of the current study by the Max Planck Institute. (fp)

Image: Sarah Grazioli /

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Video: Your brain on video games. Daphne Bavelier

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