In the past, a number of studies have suggested that video games can improve neurological functionality, thereby helping stave off conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. But now a new study shows that playing video games can actually increase one’s risk of developing neurological and psychiatric disorders.
The study, which was conducted by University of Montreal researchers, involved 59 healthy young adults whose average age was 24. They were asked to complete a virtual reality task involving mazes and landmarks.
Just under half the participants (26) reported playing action video games – like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty – on a regular basis (six hours a week or more). The rest of the group reported playing video games very rarely or not at all.
The researchers carefully examined how participants tackled the maze exercise. They found that the vast majority of the video gamers tended to use strategies that did not activate the hippocampus part of the brain. Meanwhile, well over half the non-gamers did use the hippocampus.
The problem for video gamers is that their strategy has been linked with decreased grey matter in the hippocampus part of the brain, potentially resulting in neurological problems.
It’s a complicated issue that divides many health researchers. Those behind the study acknowledge more research needs to be done, but insist it ushers in a new perspective. “Since 2003, research has been reporting cognitive benefits of video game playing so that we could use them to manage cognitive decline in older people,” noted Greg West, the study’s lead author.
“People are suggesting these games are good and we’re saying ‘Hey, wait, there might be a serious risk with them.’ I don’t want to be alarmist. The message is enjoy video games, enjoy them in moderation but don’t expect them to improve some sort of cognitive ability.”