Are video games good for your brain? Science says yes

Your brain on video games

Are video games the devil? Its a compelling question, if a bit hysterical, and there will always be people arguing both sides. Those against video games often have the same arguments: Video games are bad for your eyesight, Video games make you violent, Video games foster seclusion. But these claims never have any grounding, and were just spun up through the fear and ignorance of those who dont understand the glory of gaming.

Until recently, though, gamers have never had evidence to prove that everyone was wrong about gaming. Thanks to researchers like Daphne Bavelier, academic research is finally turning its critical eye to video games and the findings have been amazing. There are a ton of scientifically validated, peer reviewed, and published articles that specifically point out benefits of video games. Click through and share this every time someone gives your grief about gaming.

Super powers in games lead to prosocial behavior

Sometimes an experiment pretend youre not being tested, and then sic the actual experiment on you by surprise (research like to think theyre crafty). The thought is that if someone thinks they arent monitored, theyll act more impulsively instead of checking themselves. This experiment did just that: researchers let a person play with superhero powers or as a regular character in a video game. Then when the experiment was done, the researcher accidentally spilled a bunch of pencils on the ground to see if the person would help.

The results? The person who had superpowers helped pick up the dropped pencils significantly more often than the regular person. This is called prosocial behavior, and researchers are beginning to find connections between feeling powerful in video games and helping out others in real life. Feel good do good, my fellow gamers.

Playing video games as a family is psychologically healthy

Sitting down with your parents to tackle a video game together may sometimes not be the most enjoyable thing in the world, but recent research shows that its in fact a healthy exercise for the entire family! The best part of the results here point to a reduction in internalization on the childs part. You know when youre having a crappy day because you failed a test, and your parent asks you why you feel down, and you zip up your hoodie and say, nothing? Thats internalizing.

But playing with the family can lead even the quietest of us to open up. Theres trend in all of these findings: prosocial behavior. People used to cast video games in this dark and lonely light, but what were seeing now is exactly the opposite. Video games can teach us about interacting with others and even make us want to do so!

Wii Fit helps children with migraines

Not only does it help children with chronic migraines, but it helps a ton of people with other stuff as well. Pick something, anything, and the Wii Fit will help. Parkinsons? Yup. General motor disabilities? You betcha. Lazy eye? Helps that too.

But doesnt just exercising do the same thing? You ask. Yes it does, but what researchers are finding is that the Wii is special because people actually want to use it. If you tell an 8 year old boy to either walk on the treadmill for an hour or play video games for an hour, what do you think hes going to pick? The Wii led the way in self-motivated rehab, and thats pretty cool.

Video games dont actually cause violent behavior, and in fact promote visuospatial cognition

Ah the big question: do video games cause violent behavior? Tons of anecdotal evidence has been thrown at this topic, and, most confusingly, peer reviewed articles supporting both sides have been published. If both sides are supported by evidence, which is right? Thats where this meta analysis article comes in. Think of a meta analysis as a sort of average--it looks at all the completed research on a given topic and attempts to produce a conclusive statement or point from them.

What was found is pretty concrete: if you take away publication bias (people following their own agendas), there is no evidence to support that video games cause any violent behavior outside of the game itself. And even better, the article found the helpful side effect of playing video games: higher visual spatial cognition. So play on!

Video games promote in-game cooperation

Whether you're in the camp that believes video games cause violent behavior, or thinks that they cause only good feelings, theres one thing that everybody agrees on: video games do something to you. That belief is how this research team approached their experiment involving MMOs. If people spend hours together solving problems through cooperation, how does that actually affect them?

Remember that last study that found video games dont cause violent behavior in the real world? Thats exactly what these researchers found. They saw an increase in both cooperation and aggression in high level MMO players when they were facing a raid boss. The cooperation was with other players while the aggression was directed towards the raid boss. But outside of the game? Not much transitioned.

Our visual attention is amazing

Have you looked at the HUD of an RTS recently? Minimap, resources, selected units, stats, all shifting as you control an army on-screen. No one can argue against gamer's attentional prowess, but its never been quantified just how much better it is than the average persons. This research study endeavoured to quantify that claim by using a bunch of shifting colored circles on screen. You had to remember which circles were which color, and then correctly guess one chosen at random. An average person could correctly recall around three circles. The common gamer? Between six and eight.

The benefits dont just disappear when were older either. In fact, another study showed that adults who played video games as children actually retained their awesome visual attention throughout their growth. All those days of grinding through SSBM to get Mewtwo paid off; you now are able to multitask like a god.

Video games keep your brain like a childs brain FOREVER (kind of)

In psych terms, plasticity refers to your brains ability to adapt to new things--like learning a new language (or really just learning anything). Kids are basically little plastic knowledge sponges, but plasticity decreases as we get older.

THAT IS, OF COURSE, UNLESS YOURE A GAMER. God bless Daphne Bavelier and her team of researchers: this time they tackle video games in rehab for the impaired brain. What they found was that by playing video games a certain amount every day as a form of rehab, a person who has suffered a brain injury can actually speed up their recovery process. Usually when neurological damage happens its nigh impossible to fully recover, and if video games begin to disprove that, it could be huge for the scientific community.

Were better at filtering irrelevant information than regular people

This one is pretty cool: recent research is beginning to show that gamers can neurologically suppress distractions from affecting a task theyre doing. That may sound crazy, but think about it. Youre playing League of Legends. Youre chilling in your top lane. Pings are flying, chat is going crazy, people are teleporting everywhere, but as soon as you check to see the destruction doesnt affect you, you just go back to farming.

Whats happening in your brain is this: every time a distraction arises, a normal persons brain lights up and diverts attention to said distraction to ensure that everything is alright. Gamers, on the other hand, preemptively check the distraction to see whether it requires the brains attention or not. The distraction gets a brief flare of brain activity, then nothing. We dont dwell. Think of all the things this affects: driving, conversations, working, etc. Even though many of us may have ADD, at least were good at knowing where to put our fleeting attention.

This TED Talk says it all

Dr. Daphne Bavelier is basically the coolest person ever. Shes made it her research mission to study video games and see their effects on humans. What she found was so different than what everybody assumes when they think about video games that she gave a TED Talk about the subject. Watch it for yourself, we dont want to spoil it. This video will be the best 18 minutes of your day.

Use this information wisely

There you have it, concrete and scientific proof that gamers do in fact benefit from playing video games. Dont think that were perfect though, we didnt even touch addiction/gambling/life prioritization issues that gamers seem to fall into. But regardless, feel empowered, go forth with your super brain! Anything in here surprise you? Anything else you know about science and video games? Let us know in the comments below!

And if you're looking for more science and psychology in video games, check out the Top 7 lies games tell us about medicine and ways video games use psychology to scare the crap out of us.