Is playing video games good for the brain?

“Is playing video games good for the brain?” I have been asked this question many times and have always answered “with moderation,” as the problem solving and hand eye coordination involved could certainly have positive impacts.  Growing research has begun to increasingly support this claim, which often elicits the parental response of “but do we really need all the weapons?”. Sadly enough, the answer is yes. Research supports that games with the most powerful neurological effects are the most controversial as well, the first person shooters.

The January/February issue Scientific American Mind offers a good overview of the positive and negative qualities associated with playing video games.  While 90% of all kids play video games, the average age of a gamer is 33, and many adults indulge in the sensory delight as well.

Gamers of all ages have been found to have: *  Better detail detection   * Better eye hand coordination   * Improved eyesight and visual attention   * Better spatial attention   *Better decision making when a quick response is needed   * Better at assessing new visual information   * Able to manage multiple streams of information

There is no doubt that the rich graphics and the complex story lines stimulate the brain reward system, releasing dopamine that is associated with pleasure.  While that dopamine release sparks learning, it also encourages continuous play, which brings about the even more controversial notion of gaming addiction.  A recent Harris poll shows that 8.5% of the children in the U.S. show signs of addiction to video games.

Another question that follows in tandem with the above is whether video games trigger aggression? The body dumps stress hormones during game play, reacting to the stressful stimuli by preparing for a fight.  It doesn’t usually last long after the play is disengaged, but this may affect the way the child perceives the world.

All being said, my answer on the subject of video games and learning stays the same; “everything in moderation.” Gaming is here to stay, and by embracing it and seeking a better understanding of its effects on cognitive development, we can maximize its benefits and mitigate its shortcomings.

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