By Meenu Johnkutty ’21
Learning is an everyday occurrence that extends beyond the traditional classroom setting, whether it be quickly memorizing a bus route or remembering a colleague’s number. A recent study led by Dr. Sabrina Schenk of Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, revealed that video gamers may have an edge in learning over non video gamers. In this study, researchers explored categorization learning, defined as the ability to recognize and sort objects based on certain characteristics.
Fifteen right-handed video gamers who reported playing more than 15 hours of video games a day and 15 right-handed non-gamers who reported gaming less than four hours a day participated in the study. Questionnaires screened potential participants for the study. Those who met the established criteria were ultimately chosen to participate. The participants did not have any current or past mental illness and had either normal or corrected vision.
To test whether the gamers had an advantage over non-gamers in categorical learning, the researchers administered the Weather Prediction Task, which examines subjects’ ability to respond to cues based on associations learned at the start of the experiment. The task’s main objective is to test the process of learning probabilities –in this case, the chance of a certain weather pattern happening. Participants sought to master the patterns associated with certain types of weather; after each round of testing, the researchers informed the subjects about the accuracy of their pattern-weather associations. Based on this feedback and multiple rounds of association-weather matching, participants gradually learned the correct associations.
While the subjects were taking the test, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machines recorded brain activity. After the study was completed, the researchers administered questionnaires that determined the extent of the knowledge that subjects had gained from the Weather Prediction Task. The results revealed that video gamers had acquired more knowledge about the cue card combinations than non video gamers had. Additionally, MRIs showed that throughout the task, video gamers had higher activation in the hippocampus, an area of the brain related to memory and learning.
This study is the first to link positive task performance in the Weather Prediction Task to hippocampal activation. The researchers suggest that these findings are relevant to cognitive training and neuropsychological rehabilitation, especially in regards to neural plasticity and the cognitive limitations that come with age. In light of these benefits, gamers can certainly argue for a better reputation: they’re not only having fun, but also training their brains.
- S. Schenk, et. al., Games people play: How video games improve probabilistic learning. ScienceDirect 335, 208-214 (2017). doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2017.08.027.
- Image retrieved from: https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-close-up-device-display-442576/