So you bought your kids the latest video game console for Christmas or their last birthday, and now you’re regretting it because they spend all their time on it instead of doing homework, chores or playing outside…
Well, there might just be a silver lining to video games.
In an article published in The Journal of Neuroscience, University of California, Irvine (UCI), neurobiologists Craig Stark and Dane Clemenson observed that playing three dimensional (3D) video games helps improve memory. The results of the study not only can help kids get better grades and you perform better at work but also contribute to fighting memory loss that occurs through aging.
Playing video games has already been shown to be beneficial in helping us have better reaction time as well as hand eye coordination. This study by the Center of Neurobiology of Learning & Memory at UCI shows that spending time playing video games may not be so bad after all.
Prevalence of Video Games
The video game industry has modest beginnings with very simple games played on old gaming consoles like Atari. Today however, over 155 million Americans play some type of video game according to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which is the U.S. association that represents computer and video game publishers.
These gaming consoles are so prevalent that 80% of U.S. households have one, and about 42% of Americans play 3 hours or more each week.
If you think video games are for kids or just boys, think again.
The ESA estimates that nearly half of the players are female (44%). Also, the average age of those playing these games is 35, with around 56% of gamers aged 35 and under.
All in all, consumers spent $22.4 billion for video games and consoles in 2014.
The good news is that studies show that 91% of parents put controls on what games their kids can buy and play. They also limit the time spent on these games.
Many parents also play video games with their kids as they say it is a good way for them to have fun, socialize with their children, as well as monitor game content.
Choose 3D Video Games to Improve Your Memory
So which video games should you get?
The UCI study found that not all video games are equal, at least when it comes to giving you that memory boost.
Research participants consisted of 39 self-described regular gamers as well as 29 non-video game playing college students from the University of California, Irvine. Over a span of 2 weeks, the students were either asked to play a 3D (three dimensional) game, namely “Super Mario 3D World”, or a 2D (two dimensional) game, “Angry Birds”.
What the neurobiologists learned was that 30 minutes each day of playing 3D video games increased memory test performance by 12%, whereas the 2D video games did not.
The memory tests given to the students were designed to engage the hippocampus, which is the section of the brain that’s responsible for memory, particularly long term memory. The hippocampus also contributes to our spatial navigation abilities.
This part of the brain plays an important role in age related mental issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Damage to the hippocampus leads to memory loss as well as difficulty in being able to form new memories.
The scientists believe that the reason the 3D video games offered better memory enhancements was because they were more complex. This made the brain process more as well decipher the large amount of spatial information provided. Their complexity engaged the hippocampus more in learning.
The Dark Side: Video Game Addiction and Violence
Playing video games, with proper limits, as the study above shows, offers numerous benefits. They not only improve memory and prevent memory loss, they also increase hand eye coordination as well as help with reaction time.
Unfortunately, these games can be addictive.
Studies have shown that close to 10% of gamers are addicted to video games with the figures ranging from between 7% to 8.5%.
A study published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction also observed that from 119 online gamers selected to participate in the research, 41% played as an escape from their real lives.
Other concerns with modern day video game titles is the prevalence of violence. Research done by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that violent video games affected children in that those who spent a lot of time playing these types of games were more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior in everyday life.