People who play video games regularly are better learners, say scientists who found that gamers performed significantly better at a learning competition showed increased activity in the relevant brain regions. The researchers from Ruhr University Bochum in Germany studied 17 volunteers who played action-based games on the computer or a console for more than 15 hours a week. The control group consisted of 17 volunteers who did not play video games on a regular basis.
Both teams did the weather prediction task, a test to investigate the learning of probabilities. The researchers simultaneously recorded the brain activity of the participants via magnetic resonance imaging. The participants were shown a combination of three cue cards with different symbols. They should estimate whether the card combination predicted Sun or rain and got a feedback if their choice was right or wrong right away.
The volunteers gradually learned, on the basis of the feedback, which card combination stands for which weather prediction. The combinations were thereby linked to higher or lower probabilities for Sun and rain. After completing the task, the study participants filled out a questionnaire to sample their acquired knowledge about the cue card combinations. The gamers were notably better in combining the cue cards with the weather predictions than the control group.
They fared even better with cue card combinations that had a high uncertainty such as a combination that predicted 60 per cent rain and 40 per cent sunshine. The analysis of the questionnaire revealed that the gamers had acquired more knowledge about the meaning of the card combinations than the control group. “Our study shows that gamers are better in analysing a situation quickly, to generate new knowledge and to categorise facts – especially in situations with high uncertainties,” said Sabrina Schenk, from Ruhr University Bochum.
This kind of learning is linked to an increased activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that plays a key role in learning and memory. “We think that playing video games trains certain brain regions like the hippocampus,” said Schenk. “That is not only important for young people, but also for older people; this is because changes in the hippocampus can lead to a decrease in memory performance. Maybe we can treat that with video games in the future,” she said.