Video games get quite the bad media reputation these days. Frequently cited as the cause of a range of maladies in younger generations, they’re blamed for everything from obesity to an increased penchant for violence.
But a lot of studies are surfacing in recent years that counteract these claims, and state that gaming can be beneficial for your brain. In fact, gaming has a large impact on expanding and sharpening your cognitive abilities.
How Gaming Helps Your Brain
Let’s look at the ways gaming can positively affect your brain functions.
- Sharper attention and focus: A 2012 study by Green and Bavelier found that playing action-based video games improves your spatial attention. This is the ability to locate a target when a bunch of stimuli are present. It also includes your ability to keep track of that target. Gaming trains your mind to discard unwanted spatial information and stay on a single track, which improves focus.
- Faster reflex and response time: Gaming hones skills like hand-eye coordination and audio-visual information processing. Your “fight-or-flight” response works overtime and, as a result, your response to non-game situations also becomes quicker. Video games train your brain to quickly assess and respond to game scenarios. This then improves your response time outside of gaming scenarios.
- Improves memory: Playing video games improves your ability to recognize and differentiate between patterns. Pattern recognition is a sign of improved long-term memory. It also improves your working and short-term memory by giving your brain solid practice in retaining information. Longer storylines and complicated tasks force your brain to stay engaged and recall various details at random intervals. This is a fantastic way to practice strengthening your memory.
- Better decision-making skills: Long-term exposure to gaming can improve your decision-making ability. Studies show it trains your mind to pick-and-choose between relevant and irrelevant stimuli. This strengthens your decision-making skills, as it largely depends on your ability to choose between desired and undesired actions. And because video games present decisions under time constraints, you’re forced to make decisions fast and under pressure. As you get more practice with this skill, you’ll notice decisions become easier in other areas of your life.
- Increased flexibility: Multiple studies have shown that playing video games increases your ability to switch rapidly and without error between tasks that have conflicting demands. This is an excellent skill for handling busy schedules and increased demands for your attention at work and home. Multitasking is a bit of myth because you’re really task-switching. But being flexible helps you switch between these tasks easier and faster without losing focus or concentration.
- Fluid problem-solving skills: Gaming has a positive impact on a lot of brain functions that are important for your day-to-day life. A lot of these take place in the area of your brain responsible for executive functionality. Things like attention span, working memory, mental flexibility, reasoning skills, and problem-solving are all examples of how executive function operates through your ability to “get things done”. Video games rely on the use of these skills to finish the game. Gaming also promotes creative thinking and quick response time, which are crucial skills for problem solving.
- Slows mental decline: Your mental flexibility and memory decline naturally with age. Several studies have found that long-term exposure to video games and gaming practices can keep your brain flexible for a longer period because of constant mental exercise. This helps keep your neural pathways functional and learning new skills in various games encourages neuroplasticity. All of this results in an agile, working brain even in advanced age, which improves your quality of life in the sunset years.
Too much of anything is bad, and the same goes for gaming. If playing video games causes you to ignore real-world responsibilities, then that hobby is a problem. But as an exercise to enjoy in your free time, gaming has multiple positive effects on your brain and cognitive abilities. Like anything, playing games in moderation can be fun and promote brain health. So, next time you feel like going on a quest, pick up that controller and game to glory.
If you’re worried about how much technology impacts your life, watch this video for tips on how to digitally detox: