Gamer sitting in dark room

Frequent gamers 'have enhanced brain activity and decision making skills'

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Young people who regularly play video games have superior sensorimotor decision-making skills and enhanced activity in key regions of the brain, according to Georgia State University researchers.

A project used functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) to study the brains of 47 college-age participants, of whom 28 were categorised as regular video game players and 19 as non-players.

“Video games are played by the overwhelming majority of our youth more than three hours every week, but the beneficial effects on decision-making abilities and the brain are not exactly known,” said lead researcher Mukesh Dhamala.

“Our work provides some answers on that. Video game playing can effectively be used for training — for example, decision-making efficiency training and therapeutic interventions — once the relevant brain networks are identified.”

The subjects lay inside an FMRI machine with a mirror that allowed them to see a cue immediately followed by a display of moving dots. Participants were asked to press a button in their right or left hand to indicate the direction the dots were moving, or resist pressing either button if there was no directional movement.

The study found that video game players were faster and more accurate with their responses.

Analysis of the resulting brain scans showed the differences were correlated with enhanced activity in certain parts of the brain.

“These results indicate that video game playing potentially enhances several of the sub-processes for sensation, perception and mapping to action to improve decision-making skills,” authors of the study reporting the research write. “These findings begin to illuminate how video game playing alters the brain in order to improve task performance and their potential implications for increasing task-specific activity.”

The study also notes there was no trade-off between speed and accuracy of response — the video game players were better on both measures.

“This lack of speed-accuracy trade-off would indicate video game playing as a good candidate for cognitive training as it pertains to decision-making,” the researchers say.

The gaming sector has boomed has in recent years with many people were forced to stay at home during the pandemic. The UK market for video games reached a record £7bn in 2020, with a massive increase of nearly 30 per cent year-on-year. One study found they had become a vital social tool during the lockdowns as a way to keep in touch with friends.

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