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Extensive Video Game Experience Readies Brain For More Challenging Hand-Eye Tasks

New research from Canada suggests that extensive video-game experience prepares the brain for complex hand-eye coordination tasks beyond those tackled in game-playing; so next time you find yourself concerned that perhaps your teenager is wasting time playing video games, consider this: is the experience readying them for a future career as a laparoscopic surgeon?

You can read how researchers from the Center for Vision Research at York University in Toronto, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the effect of video-game experience on the neural control of increasingly complex visuomotor tasks in young men in the October issue of Cortex, an Elsevier journal.

Lead author and PhD candidate Joshua Granek and colleagues, concluded that the reorganization of the brain’s cortical network, that they discovered in the young men with significant video game-playing experience, gave them an advantage not only in playing video games but also in performing other complex visuomotor tasks.

The authors wrote that other studies have suggested that individuals skilled in video game-playing have a more efficient brain network for controlling movement that includes the prefrontal, premotor, primary sensorimotor and parietal cortices.

They said this new study extends and generalizes these findings by “documenting additional prefrontal cortex activity in experienced video gamers planning for complex eye-hand coordination tasks that are distinct from actual video-game play”.

For the study, they compared 13 young men in their twenties, who during the previous three years had played video games for at least four hours a week, and were very good at it, to 13 young men who had not.

The volunteers completed a series of increasingly difficult visuomotor tasks, including using a joystick and looking one way while reaching in a different direction. They also completed the tasks while sitting inside an fMRI machine having their brain scanned.

Senior investigator Dr. Lauren Sergio, associate professor in the Faculty of Health at York University, told the press that using high resolution brain imaging, they were able to measure which brain areas were active at given times during the experiment.

And she said, rather than just looking at brain activity, they also “tested how the skills learned from video game experience can transfer over to new tasks”.

A key result was finding that during the increasingly difficult tasks, the less experienced video game players relied mostly on the parietal cortex (the brain area typically involved in hand-eye coordination), while the brain scans of the experienced gamers showed more activity in the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain.

The researchers wrote that the these changes in activation between extensive gamers and non-gamers are possibly linked to the “increased online control and spatial attention required for complex visually guided reaching”.

They concluded:

“These data suggest that the basic cortical network for processing complex visually guided reaching is altered by extensive video-game play.”

Such findings can hold important implications for research into neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, where people with the disease find it increasingly difficult to complete even the simplest hand-eye coordination tasks.

For example, it may be possible to find ways to stimulate the brain to reorganize itself, perhaps by getting Alzheimer’s patients to practice particular visuomotor skills.

Granek said it would be interesting to look at whether different types of video games are associated with different types of brain pattern changes, or the total number of hours played.

He also said studying female game players might show yet a different set of results, as earlier studies have hinted.

In their study, the researchers, Sergio, Granek, and recent PhD graduate Diana J. Gorbet, focused on a range of visuomotor tasks, including what they termed “dissociated visuomotor tasks”. These are tasks where the visual information that is fed to the brain is dissociated from the motor action required to generate it: a good example is when we use a mouse to change what is happening on the computer screen.

A more challenging dissociated visuomotor task would be laparoscopic surgery, where the surgeon uses a computer screen to show an enlarged view of the operation while controlling minute surgical movements by hand.

So don’t hide away that video game console just yet.


One Response to “Extensive Video Game Experience Readies Brain For More Challenging Hand-Eye Tasks”

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