Video Gamers Have Better Connected Brains

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Amongst the wider public, video gamers do not have the best reputation. They are perceived, somewhat unfairly, as socially awkward, bespectacled, pimply-faced geeks. However, new research provides them something of a “Revenge-of-the-Nerds moment”: Action video gamers (AVGs) have more gray matter and better connectivity in certain subregions of the brain.

The research team, headed by principal investigator Dezhong Yao, were led to examine brain structure and function among AVGs because of a plethora of previous evidence that showed that expert AVGs had superior cognitive abilities compared to amateurs. For instance, expert AVGs possess better attention skills and eye-hand coordination. Futhermore, it was already known that expert AVGs had more gray matter in various brain regions.

Armed with this prior knowledge, the team used functional MRI to examine the brains of 27 expert AVGs (i.e., action video gamers who were regional or national champions) and 30 amateur AVGs (i.e., noobs), focusing specifically on networks within the insular cortex that are associated with attention and sensorimotor function. (See figure.)

The figure depicts brain pathways with enhanced functional connectivity in expert AVGs compared to amateurs. Note that anterior (green), transitional (yellow) and posterior (red) regions of the brain showed greater connectivity in the experts, particularly in the left hemisphere. Subsequent analysis showed that expert AVGs also had more gray matter in the left insular cortex and central insular sulcus. Thus, the authors conclude that action video gaming can increase gray matter volume and integration of networks associated with attention and sensorimotor function.

It turns out that the years I spent playing Wolfenstein, Counterstrike and Unreal Tournament didn’t completely go to waste.

Source: Diankun Gong, Hui He, Dongbo Liu, Weiyi Ma, Li Dong, Cheng Luo & Dezhong Yao. “Enhanced functional connectivity and increased gray matter volume of insula related to action video game playing.”Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 9763. Published: 16-April-2015. doi:10.1038/srep09763