By Dominic Kleinknecht
A study conducted by neuropsychologists at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum found that people who play video games on a regular basis performed significantly better in a learning exercise than those who are non-gamers. The researchers found that the gaming test group had increased brain activity in areas relevant for learning.
The researchers confronted the test candidates with the so-called weather prediction task, a well-established test to study the learning of probabilities. The participants were shown a combination of three cue cards with different symbols. The subjects chose whether the card combination predicted sun or rain and got a feedback on whether their choice was correct or not immediately. The volunteers had to gradually learn which card combinations relate to which weather prediction, as different combinations of the cards were linked to different probabilities for sun and rain.
Overall, gamers were better at matching the card combinations with the weather probabilities, especially for card combinations that had a high uncertainty, such as 60% rain and 40% sun. Functional imaging showed increased brain activity in distinct regions known to be important for learning.
"Our study shows that gamers are better in analyzing a situation quickly, to generate new knowledge and to categorize facts -- especially in situations with high uncertainties," says first author Sabrina Schenk. Playing video games train the hippocampus, a brain region that is linked to processing and learning from new situations. It also plays a key role in memory, and changes in it can lead to decreasing memory performance. According to the researchers, video games might well be a treatment option in the future.
Sabrina Schenk, Robert K. Lech, Boris Suchan. Games people play: How video games improve probabilistic learning. Behavioural Brain Research, 2017; 335: 208 DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2017.08.027