7 Games That Expand Your Brain

Scientific studies suggest that, when played in moderation, games can be good for your brain.

7 Games That Expand Your Brain

Can playing games be good for you? A number of scientific studies suggest that board games like chess may positively influence the development of critical thinking, memory, and reasoning skills in young children. Could video games have a similarly beneficial effect on developing minds? We dug up some interesting research suggesting that there may be more to playing games than meets the eye--but don't use these intriguing scientific studies as an excuse to slack off and play games all day.

This isn't the first time we've encountered gaming-positive news in an unexpected setting, by the way. A few years ago we reported that some companies were answering yes to the question "Does Gaming at Work Improve Productivity?" And just a month ago, we urged you, "Tell Your Boss: Play Video Games, Work Smarter."

Halo 2 Helps Kids Develop Better Attention Skills

Intense-action-game franchises like Halo, Gears of War, and Grand Theft Auto receive criticism for breeding brutality (or at least insensitivity) among young players. But a clinical study of 114 children and young adults (ages 7 to 22) conducted by researchers with the University of Rochester's Center for Visual Science suggests that playing such games may have some physiological benefits. Children who play action games may develop the ability to pay attention and focus on multiple objects much faster than children who do not. According to the research, "this study shows that children who play action games exhibit performance levels that are only reached at a much later age, or not at all, in non-gamers."

Playing Peggle Lowers the Incidence of Anxiety and Depression

In addition to improving your vocabulary, playing Bookworm Adventures may help stave off mental illness. Researchers at East Carolina University's Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic studied the effects of regular game play on the players' psychological health and found that participants who played casual games like Peggle three times a week for at least 30 minutes at a time demonstrated significant reductions in tension, anger, depression, and fatigue compared to a control group who avoided games. The casual game players showed a 57 percent decrease in depressive symptoms, and long-term testing suggests that those benefits remained as long as the individuals continued to play games.

Call of Duty Trains Players to Make Smart Decisions Faster

A study published in the scientific journal Current Biology suggests that playing action games improves reaction speed. Cognitive scientists from the University of Rochester in New York "tested dozens of 18- to 25-year-olds who were not ordinarily video game players," asking them to play 50 hours of either Call of Duty 2 or The Sims 2 before testing them with timed questions. Those who played action games were just as accurate as those who did not, and they reacted up to 25 percent faster. "Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time," said author D. Bavelier. "If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference."

Brain Age 2 Makes Kids Better at Math

Playing Brain Age 2 for 15 minutes every morning helped 30 students at St. Columbia's grade school in the Scottish city of Dundee beat their peers in a series of standardized math tests. Researchers with the nondepartmental public body Learning and Teaching Scotland pitted the grade-school gamers against a similar group of students who trained in a Brain Gym doing physical activities designed to promote cognitive function, as well as against a third control group of students who received no special training. The three groups were given challenging math tests before and after the study, and the Brain Age 2 gamers demonstrated significantly improved cognitive skills compared to the other children.

Unreal Tournament Sharpens Your Vision

Researchers at the University of Rochester have published a study suggesting that regularly playing intense action games can improve players' ability to identify visual details at a distance. Dr. Daphne Bavalier gave comprehensive visual exams to a group of college students who rarely played games, then split them into two groups--one that played Unreal Tournament for an hour a day, and one that Tetris for the same amount of time. After a month the two groups were tested again. The Tetris group showed no notable improvement in visual acuity, but the gamers who played Unreal Tournament were nearly 20 percent more successful than before at identifying characters at a distance.

Rise of Nations Improves Executive Decision-Making Skills

Playing complex strategy games may measurably improve your ability to multitask and make executive decisions. According to research conducted by University of Iillinois professor Arthur Kramer, adults who played 23.5 hours of the classic real-time strategy game Rise of Nations demonstrated better "executive control functions" than a control group of similar subjects who did not play. Notably, the gamers became significantly better and faster at switching between tasks when compared to the nongaming group. "In medical terminology, these would be dose-response effects," Kramer said. "The more drug--or in this case the more training on the video game--the more benefit."

Tetris Makes Your Brain Bigger

Playing puzzle games can increase your brain power, according to research conducted by the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Researchers found measurable improvements in brain function and cortical thickness among 26 adolescent girls who played 30 minutes of Tetris a day for 90 days. The girls underwent structural and functional MRI scans before and after the three-month practice period, as did girls in a control group whose members did not play Tetris. The girls who played games demonstrated greater brain efficiency during tests than those in the control group, and structural MRI scans revealed that those who played the puzzle game had a noticeably thicker cortex.

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