Irish Times Article: Research reveals video games are stimulating to the brain
10 December, 2009 (author Jason Walsh)
PARENTS BUYING video games this Christmas will draw comfort from new research suggesting that, in contrast to conventional wisdom, they do not turn kids’ brains to mush.
Just as the physical activity-based Nintendo Wii console convinced parents that computer games and sloth do not have to go hand in hand, new research suggests that video games stimulate the brain.
A multidisciplinary team of neuroscientists at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, has discovered that video games increase brain activity.
The team, consisting of neuroscientist and engineer Dr Philip Zeman, behavioural neurologist Dr Ron Skelton and PhD student Sharon Lee, is set to publish findings indicating that playing video games utilises the area of the brain associated with spatial reasoning and navigation.
“We have created a [brain scanning] tool that dynamically creates models of brain function,” said Dr Zeman. “The concept behind the tool is that if a researcher is interested in researching brain activity associated with a certain activity, they can acquire the data and feed it into the tool.”
The team found that, when playing three-dimensional games, the brain’s right hemisphere was stimulated. As players navigated the virtual worlds, the areas of the brain associated with spatial cognition became particularly active.
“Playing a video game is complex behaviour,” said Dr Zeman. “It’s not like flashing a light at someone or showing them a picture. The tool has opened up a Pandora’s box about what we’re going to learn about the brain. We’re going to disprove things and prove new things.”
The results grew out of a project to increase understanding of the potential for recovery in patients with brain injuries.
“Originally we were seeking to provide a new measure for tracking recovery,” said Dr Skelton. “It turns out that skill doesn’t really return after brain injury. It’s a matter of finding what areas of the brain are damaged, which are still functioning, and how to compensate.”
The development has potential applications in diagnostics for pharmaceutical prescriptions and for brain injury patients.
Stuart Derbyshire, a psychologist at the University of Birmingham’s school of life and environmental sciences, urged caution on the clinical aspects of such research. “The more techniques you use and the more that we learn, the more we can do, so it’s great on that level. However, you see group effects in studies, but for diagnostics it will have to be at the individual level – you need to find how the group pattern translates into individual cases,” he told The Irish Times.
Dr Skelton pulled back from suggesting video games had an explicit neurological pedagogic function. “We learn by activating our brain,” he said. “The process of recovery or staving off ageing is the process of using our brains. I do think video games are good for keeping your brain active, but everything in moderation: going out to the pub is an important part of your social life, but you’re not going to spend all your time there.”
* 30 July, 2009: New Tool Developed at the
among the activities of multiple areas of the brain has the
potential to reveal valuable insights into human behaviour and
thought processes. A new software tool for analyzing
electroencephalographic (EEG) data has been developed by researchers
The EEG analysis tool was
developed primarily by Philip Michael Zeman, an interdisciplinary
scientist at the
The EEG analysis tool is called “Multiple Origin Spatio-Temporal modeling of EEG” (MOST-EEG). It uses the electrical activity obtained from a person’s scalp, recorded while they play a video game, to construct a meaningful representation of the brain activity that took place while the person learned and used the layout of the virtual environment. Through an automated process of data mining, validation, and source volume estimation the MOST-EEG analysis tool provides a 3D representation of brain activity during different mental states. Using this new method we hope to better understand the activities of the brain and the cognitive strategies related to successful and unsuccessful completion of the video game. The tool is also currently being evaluated as a means to identify problems of brain function within individuals and to understand how individuals with brain injury compensate for their injury. This research represents the next step in the development of a new medical diagnostic procedure.
This new research tool should have broad appeal to researchers and has several potential medical applications. “Philip developed a new procedure for analyzing EEG data that identifies the location of specific brain activities, like an fMRI, with reasonable accuracy at a small fraction of the cost,” says Ron Skelton. “I think it will have immediate usefulness in understanding where the damage is most severe in individual cases of traumatic brain injury. I also think that the procedure will be useful to other brain researchers, and has the potential to be used in medicine to identify areas of the brain that aren’t working properly or aren’t talking to other areas as they should. In addition, it has the potential to track the brain changes underlying the kind of neuroplasticity people are now talking about as being crucial for recovery from stroke and brain injury.”
The research papers that
describe the tool and methodology are currently in the review
process in several, peer-reviewed journals. Over the duration
of his research at the
Funding for this research
has come from multiple parties, including Dr. Nigel Livingston,
Director of CanAssist , and
from National Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the