Study Suggests Video Game Playing May Increase Brain Size

A new study from the journal of Molecular Psychiatry explores the impact of video gameplay on the brain’s gray matter, which is responsible for muscle control, memory, and language and sensory perception. Researchers from Berlin’s Max Planck Institute for Human Development and St. Hedwig-Hospital gathered adult subjects to play a game, “Mario 64” on Nintendo’s DS system, in order to analyze the potential effect of gameplay on the brain.

The subjects were required to play the game for a total of 30 minutes per day for a period of two months.

“At the end of that time, the gaming subjects showed ‘significant gray matter increase’ in both the bilateral hippocampus and portions of the right prefrontal cortex,” explains Quartz.

The hippocampus is a horseshoe-shaped region of the brain that is responsible for memory and connecting senses to memory. In the “Mario 64” game, users are required to maneuver their character through a 3D space.

“One of the Nintendo DS’s split-screens is used to provide players with Mario’s position on a map, while the other displays the first-person perspective of the game character. The brain gains were associated with the players getting better at ‘Mario 64,’ moving from a reliance on the first-person perspective (which the study calls an ‘egocentric’ spatial strategy) to a more overarching (referred to as ‘allocentric’) strategy that switches between the map and Mario’s view,” reports Quartz.

Interestingly, researchers also found that there is a correlation between people’s desire to play the game and their increase in gray matter.

“The effect of gameplay on players’ gray matter was especially pronounced for those who said they liked playing the game,” notes the article. “Researchers speculated that this has to do with the brain’s reward system, which releases dopamine when a person is enjoying an activity. This dopamine might in turn enhance gray matter — effectively creating a feedback loop.”