Video games have a long history of “altering player behavior” and “causing aggression” among kids. While these claims are very popular, they didn’t stand the test of time. Researchers have repeatedly proven anti-video game activists and groups wrong. But the 21st century had to come to shed light on the positive effects video games have on our body and mind.
A recent study conducted by researchers in China has shown that playing action video games is far from being useless waste of time. On the contrary: action video games can actually improve cognitive function. Players of these games have been shown to have more grey matter and show improved connectivity of certain regions of their brain. Add this to the already proven effects, that of improving attention and eye-hand coordination, and you’ll see that playing the latest Halo on your Xbox might not be such a bad way to spend time after all.
Previous studies have shown that video games are beneficial to our brain. One of them found that playing frequently can thicken the cerebral cortex while another has shown that storytelling in video games can improve children’s social and emotional skills, not to mention their memory and problem-solving abilities.
But games can help more than just our cortex: they can make learning more efficient (and much more fun). In an experiment, Paul Howard-Jones, professor of neuroscience and education at the University of Bristol, has tested the effects of casino-style games on attention span and the efficiency of learning. His results were convincing enough for him to consider that these games should be part of the majority of lessons at school.
For his trials, Professor Howard-Jones used 24 post-grad students, who got a certain number of points for each question they answered correctly. They didn’t win cash, although this might have been an option, with bonuses available for series of good answers… but this is a topic for another time. The students had the chance to either double or lose their points in a game similar to a Wheel ofFortune. He examined the effects of gambling-based rewards on the students, using advanced brain imaging technologies, and found that the area of the brain that shows distraction was rarely ever active during the sessions. What’s even more interesting is that he found the students’ dopamine responses, associated with visceral pleasures, such as good food, were increased by the game’s “risk and reward” nature.
What Professor Howard-Jones has shown with his trials – which will be extended to over 10,000 students aged 8 or above – is that introducing an element of chance into the classroom (using a casino-style game of chance) can keep the students focused on the lesson. And learning this way is much more exciting, too – as the professor put it, the students can even end up “screaming with excitement” as they learn.