Some video games might actually be good for you. And yes, you read that right.
3-D video games may help your brain form memories, a new study found.
"The basic idea is that, if you take a rat and you let them wander around in a big maze or a big environment, it does all sorts of great things for that rat's brain," said lead study author Dr. Craig Stark, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine, in a video about this study. "Give a rat something to learn, something to explore, something to do — and the rat's memory is better."
That's the basic theory behind the findings of this study, Dr. Stark said — although this study was conducted on humans. According to Dr. Stark and colleagues, the important distinction here is that the video games found to boost memory were three-dimensional (think "Minecraft" or "Super Mario 3D World"). That rules out your 2-D iPhone games (think "Angry Birds").
This study consisted of a series of experiments that attempted to measure the memory effects of playing 3-D video games. In one experiment, these researchers recruited 69 non-gamers who were 18- to 22-year-old students at UC Irvine. After giving these students a memory test designed to engage the memory-forming part of the brain (the hippocampus), Dr. Stark and colleagues divided them into three groups. One group played no video games, another played "Angry Birds" and the third played "Super Mario 3D World."
The study participants engaged in their assigned activity for a half hour per day for more than two weeks. At the end of this study, Dr. Stark and team readministered the memory test. The participants who didn't play a video game or played a 2-D game showed no improvement in memory. But the 3-D gamers? Their memory performance improved by around 12 percent on average.
Twelve percent — that's roughly how much memory function someone loses between the ages of 45 and 70, these researchers pointed out. Dr. Stark offered a possible explanation for these findings:
"First, the 3-D games have a few things the 2-D ones do not," he said in a press release. "They've got a lot more spatial information in there to explore. Second, they're much more complex, with a lot more information to learn. Either way, we know this kind of learning and memory not only stimulates but requires the hippocampus."
Dr. Stark noted that these findings could one day help researchers fight cognitive decline in aging patients. He and his team have received a grant to continue their research on this topic.
This study was published online Dec. 8 in the Journal of Neuroscience.
The National Institute on Aging and James S. McDonnell Foundation funded this research. Dr. Stark and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.