Power Up! Playing Video Games May Boost Your Brain

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Video game players who don't want to put down the controller may have a new excuse to keep the game going: A small new study finds that gaming may boost the amount of gray matter in parts of a person's brain, indicating that the brain may have better control over small movements in the body.

In the study, researchers found that video game players had more gray matter in two areas of the brain associated with learning motor skills, compared with people who did not play video games.

In addition, the video game players in the study had quicker reaction times, according to the study, conducted by researchers in Poland. [10 Things You Didn't Know About The Brain]

Previous studies have found differences in certain cognitive functions in people who play video games versus those who don't, the researchers said. For example, video game players have been able to perform more complex tasks with less effort compared to non-video-game players.

However, very little is known about how playing video games may affect the shape of the brain, said Natalia Kowalczyk, a graduate student in neuropsychology at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw, Poland, and lead author of the study, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

To study this, the researchers compared 31 video game players to 29 non-video-game players, Kowalczyk told Live Science. All of the people in the study were men, and their average age was 25, she said. The researchers chose players who had played the game StarCraft II for at least 6 hours a week for the past six months, she said. The non-video-game players, on the other hand, had not played video games for more than 10 hours over the past six months, she said.

The researchers used a type of brain scan called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look for structural differences in the participants' brains. In addition, the participants did a reaction-time test while being scanned, Kowalczyk said.

The researchers found that the video game players had more gray matter in two areas of the brain — the right putamen and the globus pallidus — compared with the non-video-game players. These parts of the brain help control, among other things, movements in the body — for example, pressing a video game controller, Kowalczyk said. [9 Odd Ways Your Tech Devices May Injure You]

It isn't clear whether this greater amount of gray matter existed in these men before they began gaming, or whether it is the result of their gaming. But it's possible that this change may make it easier for video game players to complete simple movements, so that they may dedicate more brainpower to more demanding aspects of the game, such as strategy, Kowalczyk said.

The researchers also found that the video game players had quicker reaction times than the non-video-game players, Kowalczyk said. To test reaction time, the participants were shown a flashing box on a screen. The box moved to different positions, and the participants were asked whether it had appeared in the same place one or two flashes earlier, she said. Although the video game players responded more quickly on the test, there was no difference in accuracy between the two groups, she said.

Follow Sara G. Miller on Twitter @SaraGMiller. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.