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Playing video games increases the size of the brain, study shows

For the past couple of decades video games have been blamed for everything, from aggressive behavior, to desensitization to violence, the risk of obesity – think the media portrayal of an overweight guy sitting in his parents’ basement wearing a Yoda t-shirt – to being socially inactive or alienated, which we know is often an exaggeration.

Video games have been increasingly studied by researchers and a new study theorizes that playing them could actually increase the size of certain parts of our brains and make us smarter.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charité University Medicine St. Hedwig-Krankenhaus published a study in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, called, “Playing Super Mario induces structural brain plasticity: gray matter changes resulting from training with a commercial video game.”

The scope of their research was to see if video games can affect cerebral structural plasticity, so they took 23 adults – average age 24 - and had them play Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day for a total of two months and measured their brains with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and comparing them with a control group that didn't play video games.

Their findings were extremely interesting as they reported an increase in brain volume in three specific areas: the right hippocampus, the right prefrontal cortex, and the cerebellum and the changes were most noticeable in participants who were eager to play the game.

These areas of the brain are responsible for “spatial navigation, strategic planning, working memory and motor performance.”

"While previous studies have shown differences in brain structure of video gamers, the present study can demonstrate the direct causal link between video gaming and a volumetric brain increase. This proves that specific brain regions can be trained by means of video games," said Simone Kühn, the leader of the study.

The researchers believe that these results could have more far-reaching effects like the development of gameplay therapies to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and neurodegenerative diseases.

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