How does gaming affect the brain?
By Young Park
Our brains have the ability to take our desire for some hard-core gaming and to transform it so that we feel satisfied. In fact, video games and behavioral effects are the subject of much study and debate at the moment. I recently wrote an article on how video game addiction and empathy are related, and in fact, empathy is one of the strongest abilities affected while we game.
But at the same time, our brains can benefit from the good features of video games. So how does gaming affect the brain? We review here and invite your questions about the brain and gaming at the end.
Are there benefits of video games for the brain?
First of all, games like Tetris or games that make you find differences between two pictures… they can benefit your brain almost every time because it makes you think. You ask yourself some questions that help to solve this problem. How can I solve this Tetris puzzle? Of course, these kinds of games take up very little of our gaming time because it’s mostly played on our smartphones.
Oftentimes it seems like there are too many types of games that are played to be mentioned. The most played? It’s probably FPS and MMORPG. Shooting, violence, role-playing, socializing, those types of games. However, recent research done by Han and Renshaw indicates that gaming may improve visual-spatial capacity (the ability to use images, colors, and pictures to learn and to engage), visual acuity, multi-tasking, decision making, and tracking things.
Basically for the brain, gaming done in a short period of time probably works like a vitamin for the brain. It supplements your ability to think, it supplements your ability to process things. However, signs of pathological gaming should be identified and treated as soon as possible, in order to avoid some of the negative effects of compulsive gaming.
How does gaming shape our brains for success?
Mainly, gaming affects dexterity. Dexterity is the skill during which we perform tasks especially with our hands. Video games can be an example for increasing dexterity. The neural pathways in our brains don’t just connect by themselves, and they certainly don’t connect just because we throw a baseball once in a while. We practice, we do it every other day, on a schedule. It’s just like working out, but you’re just working out your brain with activities that can help.
A great pianist needs to be quick in playing, but also accurate. This is probably done by using exercises like playing scales and patterns that form the hand to be agile. When we shape our hands, we also shape our brain. The neural networks connect and help to respond faster. Gaming is just the same.
The negative side of gaming towards our brain
Still, the more we play, the more we look at the TV or the monitor, and the more dopamine is released…the more we impact our brains. Dopamine is the chemical that contributes to concentration and learning. When we game too much, it’s possible that the high level of dopamine would make it hard to concentrate.
Further, violent video games can take away the ability to have empathy, making it harder to not get aggressive. You would get mad easily.
Another example can be getting more and more anti-social while playing MMORPG. Games in the MMORPG genre include so much social interaction, that socializing in reality isn’t needed anymore.
We can’t say that video games are totally good or bad for our brains. It all depends on you. It all depends on how long you game, what genre you play the most, the best, and the longest. There are so many individual variables to measuring affects gaming has on the brain that scientists can’t actually experiment with an unbiased sample. Every individual person has a different reaction, opinion, and biochemical relationship to video games. And gaming can be both good and bad for the brain.
Photo credit: agsandrew