Video gamers spend a collective three billion hours per week in front of their screens. And while the average young person will have spent 10,000 hours gaming by the time they are 21, the effects of video gaming on the brain are only beginning to be understood.
Now, a new study published in the journalProceedings of the Royal Society B shows that while video game players exhibit more efficient visual attention abilities, they are also much more likely to use navigation strategies that rely on the brain’s reward system (the caudate nucleus) and not the brain’s spatial memory system (the hippocampus). The subjects were a group of adult gamers who were spending at least six hours per week on this activity.
Past research has shown that people who use caudate nucleus-dependent navigation strategies have decreased grey matter and lower functional brain activity in the hippocampus.
“[Previous] research has demonstrated that action video game players display more efficient visual attention abilities, and our current study has once again confirmed this notion,” says study author Dr. Gregory West, from the University of Montreal. “However, we also found that gamers rely on the caudate-nucleus to a greater degree than non-gamers. This means that people who spend a lot of time playing video games may have reduced hippocampal integrity, which is associated with an increased risk of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.”
West believes that future research should further examine gaming’s effects on the hippocampus. “Neuroimaging will be necessary to further qualify our current findings, and these studies should investigate the direct effects of specific video games on the integrity of the reward system and hippocampus,” he concluded.