New study sheds light on how playing games literally shapes the brain

Call of Duty can

The study contained full scans of the brains of people who usually played video games and to those who didn't play at all.

Lead scientist Dr. Greg West, from the University of Montreal in Canada, noted that these findings go against previous claims that video games benefit particular cognitive systems in the brain.

And the more a gamer uses their caudate nucleus, the less they use their hippocampus, which according to the new study, causes that part of the brain to lose cells and atrophy.

"If action video games lead to decreases in grey matter in the hippocampus (of young adults), caution should be exerted when encouraging their use (by) children, young adults and older adults to promote cognitive skills such as visual short-term memory and visual attention", West suggested.

People with lower amounts of grey matter in the hippocampus see an increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric illnesses including depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer's disease.

The team found that spatial learners oriented themselves with the help of landmarks in the background, which included a rock, mountains and two trees.

The study authors emphasized that they aren't saying that anyone who plays video games will develop a mental illness.

"In the majority of action video games, there's an onscreen Global Positioning System overlaid on the screen", said West.

London taxi drivers who stretch their memory ability by learning "the knowledge" have been shown to possess unusually large hippocampi.

The new study aimed to better understand the brain effects of so-called first-person and third-person shooting games - such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, Killzone, or Medal of Honor - compared to "3-D platform" games in the Super Mario series.

The researchers said a causal link between human-computer interactions including action games and actual illness is not now known and requires future long-term studies.

Gaming has been shown to stimulate the caudate nucleus more than the hippocampus - 85 per cent of players rely on that part of the brain to navigate through a game.

"But there is also behavioural evidence that there might be a cost to that, in terms of the impact on the hippocampus".

After receiving training, there was an increase in the grey matter of those participants who used hippocampus-dependent spatial strategies.

The study is published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Professor Andrew Przybylski, from Oxford University, pointed out that the research lacked statistical power though and does not confirm 90 hours of playing such games leads to harm. Each participant played for a total of 90 hours.

"Extrapolating from small-scale and noisy studies like these is extremely problematic".

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