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Computer games affect the amount of gray matter in the hippocampus / SurprizingFacts


Decrease and increase in the amount of gray matter in the hippocampus after 90 hours of play

In connection with the great popularity of computer games, scientists are increasingly turning to the topic, how video games affect the human cognitive abilities. It is known, in particular, that games in the genre of action improve brain performance in different areas, among which visual attention, visual short-term memory, organizing function and procedural abilities for learning. As a result, first and third person shooters, such as Call of Duty, are now recommended to children, adults and the elderly for brain training, namely for the development of certain abilities, such as visual attention.

There were theories that video games affect gray matter in the hippocampus, an important area of ​​the brain that participates in the mechanisms of emotion formation, memory consolidation (that is, the transition of short-term memory to long-term memory) and generates a theta rhythm while keeping attention. The hippocampus plays an important role in the work of the brain throughout the life of a person.

Spatial learning (spatial learning) depends on the gray matter in the hippocampus, when a person remembers the relationship between objects in the surrounding space. An alternative strategy of orientation in space is behavior learning (response learning), in which the caudate nucleus is activated, and navigation is performed by memorizing a series of actions, starting from the starting point. It is important that people who are prone to behavioral learning have less gray matter in the hippocampus than people with a tendency to spatial learning.

Memory systems in the hippocampus and tailed nucleus contribute to the optimal performance of the task. For example, the hippocampus is directly involved in the processes of spatial navigation, episodic memory and stress management. On the other hand, the striped body with the caudate nucleus is more involved in the formation of habits and procedural memory with the training of skills in circumvention of consciousness (for example, cycling).

Recent studies in humans and rats have shown that the amount of gray matter in the hippocampus is inversely proportional to the amount of gray matter in the caudate nucleus. The functional activity of these two regions of the brain also has an inverse relationship in the navigation process. That is, if more of one of these two areas is involved, then the second one is used less. At the same time, if one is constantly actively using one of the structures (for example, the caudate nucleus for learning different skills in circumvention of consciousness), then there is a real risk of atrophy of the hippocampus. And this is serious, given the importance of the hippocampus throughout the life of a person. It is known that a low level of gray matter in the hippocampus is a risk factor for the development of a number of neuropsychiatric diseases, that is, mental illnesses that result from a disorder in the nervous structure and function of the nervous system.

Some scientists believe that it is important to balance the activity Hippocampus and caudate nucleus. It is known that some factors – stress, routine, reward – stimulate the strategy of activity of the caudate nucleus, which hinders the hippocampus. The question is how the video games affect the amount of gray matter in the hippocampus.

Considering all of the above, a group of scientists from the Center for Research in Neuropsychology and Consciousness at the University of Montreal and the Department of Psychiatry at the Douglas Hospital Research Center at McGill University (both Canada) Conducted a study measuring the amount of gray matter in the hippocampus of people who constantly play video games and who do not play.

During the experiment, a brain scan of 17 gamers and 16 nongames By magnetic resonance imaging. All of them also passed the 4-on-8 virtual maze (4 / 8VM) test in virtual reality to test the type of preferred strategy for navigation: spatial training or behavioral training.

The first experiment confirmed the theory that video games reduce The amount of gray matter in the hippocampus. In fact, among the regular gamers, the variant of behavioral rather than spatial learning in navigation was more often observed. And the amount of gray matter in the left hippocampus was significantly less.

In the second experiment, scientists took a group of volunteers who did not play computer games and forced them to play in the laboratory for 90 hours. Half played the first person shooter (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2), and the other half – in the games on the 3D platform (Super Mario games).

The results of the research are contradictory. In general, there was no difference in the amount of gray matter in the hippocampus between the groups. But those people who preferred behavioral strategies, after playing in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, there was a significant decrease in the amount of gray matter in the right hippocampus. In contrast, people with spatial education strategies experienced an increase in the amount of gray matter in the left hippocampus.

The game in Super Mario had no negative effects for any group of subjects: people who preferred behavioral strategies significantly increased the amount of gray matter In the right hippocampus, and in people with spatial training strategies, the amount of gray matter in the entorhinal area of ​​the cortex has increased significantly.

Thus, scientists conclude, x While video games in the action genre develop visual attention and other abilities of the brain, they differently affect the amount of gray matter in the hippocampus in different people, depending on what type of navigation in space a man leans spontaneously. If a person in life remembers the relationship between objects in the surrounding space, activating the hippocampus, then in the game he unconsciously does the same, thereby increasing the amount of gray matter in the hippocampus. If a person navigates in space by memorizing a series of actions, starting from the starting point, video games of this type will even more atrophy his hippocampus. As the research shows, there are more players of the second type in the action genre, therefore, on average, the hippocampus is more atrophied than normal people, but the caudate nucleus is more developed.

The scientific article was published on August 8, 2017 in the journal Molecular P (doi: 10.1038 / mp.2017.155, pdf).