Playing video games as a child can make you smarter

    It’s official: a study shows that if you played video games growing up, it helped your intelligence as an adult.

    Gone are the days when video games were considered a waste of time. Today, video games can be tremendously educational and enhance our skills in a number of ways, such as improving hand-eye coordination and serving as a viable way to socialize and interact on the internet with other people.

    Now, a study carried out by the Open University of Catalonia, in Barcelona with 27 people between 18 and 40 years old, confirms this: there was a greater sign of intelligence depending on whether or not the participants had played video games while growing up.

    The group of participants was mixed with those who had previously played video games in their childhood stage and with those who had never done so. They were forced to play 1.5 hours a day for 10 consecutive days, after their training period and 15 days after they stopped playing, to measure cognitive abilities.

    Playing classics

    The game in question was Super Mario 64 (a 3D puzzle platformer), a game that has previously been shown to have a direct association with structural changes in the brain. Similarly, a group of volunteers also underwent transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive brain stimulation technique, to see if it could improve their performance in the game.
    What happened?

    Participants in both groups improved their video game performance, but there was apparently no enhancement effect as a result of transcranial magnetic stimulation. Nothing remarkable. Participants performed differently on working memory tasks before game training, but showed similar results after 15 hours of play sessions.

    Before these results, they shifted their focus to another variable: past gaming experience. Leaving out factors such as age and gender, they found that those study participants who had grown up playing video games as a rule were much better at working memory tasks than those who had not. Older players seemed to have an advantage when it came to puzzle solving and brain work, even if they no longer spent time playing video games, but had before. This hobby seemed to have given them lasting benefits.

    “People who were avid gamers before adolescence, despite the fact that they no longer played, performed better in working memory tasks, which require maintaining and mentally manipulating information to obtain a result,” says Marc Palaus, leader of the work that publishes Frontiers in Human Neuroscience magazine.

    “Those who played regularly as children performed better early on in 3D object processing, although these differences were mitigated after the video game training period, when both groups showed similar levels,” the expert continued.

    Positive but limited effects

    While video games appear to have a beneficial effect on some cognitive tasks, the researchers emphasized that this effect is limited and may apply to many settings outside of video games. They admitted the limitations of their findings, but believe it is possible that activities other than gaming could deliver similar results.

    As this study was designed based on an alternative hypothesis, more research is needed before we can tacitly expose video games as a tool to improve intelligence.

    “Despite not achieving the desired effects of stimulation, our results, although exploratory, provide valuable information on the limitations of stimulating healthy brains and the possible beneficial effects of exposure to video games,” conclude the experts.

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