While studies on fitness and childhood obesity are quick to blame video games for the lack of activity in the lives of children, these games do have some benefits. According to a new study from the University of California-Irvine, the ones that involve three dimensional images and scenarios seem to have a positive impact on how memories are formed in the brain.
While not all studies paint video games in a bad light---several have been published that show the benefits some games have
---the most recent research from UC Irvine is significant because it actually addresses how the games can affect brain function later in life.
The project began with Craig Stark and Dane Clemenson of UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory finding college students who did not already play video games to participate in the research. -These study volunteers were then asked to play either a 2D game, Angry Birds, or a 3D game, Super Mario 3D World for 30 minutes each day, for a total of 14 consecutive days.
The students were given memory tests before beginning the study to establish their baseline skills. These tests were designed to specifically require the use of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that handles learning complex concepts and forming and maintaining memory. The same memory tests were given after the two week period of game playing to check for any differences. These memory tests involved the participants looking at pictures of common objects and then looking at pictures of the same objects, some of which were slightly altered and then categorizing the images. Stark had done previous research
that showed it’s this kind of memory and learning processes that decline with age.
The results were quite clear. The students who played the 3-D video game improved their scores on the memory test, while the 2D group did not. The amount of difference between the two groups was more just statistically significant, it was actually quite a big leap from the baseline scores and the post gaming memory ability. Memory performance increased by about 12 percent
in the 3D gamer group. This is roughly the same amount of decline that researchers say happens when people age, especially after 45 and up to about 70 years of age.
Of course 2D and 3D video games are not very similar and each requires specific abilities and skill levels. The environment of the games are fundamentally different, with the 3D games having much more visual imagery and spatial input according to Stark.
While many studies have focused on brain training games to ward off age-related memory loss and dementia, video games are a bit more broad. They don’t just aim to improve a specific cognitive area, but they envelope the user in a world where many separate mental functions are necessary to succeed. In a press release
from UC Irvine Stark said, “It’s quite possible that by explicitly avoiding a narrow focus on a single cognitive domain and by more closely paralleling natural experience, immersive video games may be better suited to provide enriching experiences that translate into functional gains”
In the video below, Stark and his team talk about the study and what it could mean for limiting memory loss and improving cognitive function with these 3D games. Take a look at what they have to say.