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Study Shows Playing Video Games as a Child Improves Brain Function in Adulthood

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There's no doubt that many gamers, at some point in their childhood, were told that playing games was just a big waste of time. These childhood gamers, whether they're still gaming or not, may be pleased to learn that this isn't actually the case.

A new study has found evidence that playing video games in childhood, meaning prior to the age of 14 and with at least a few hours played per week, seem to induce measurable improvements in brain function that last into adulthood.

The study in question was run by Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, which actually set out to study whether or not transcranial magnetic stimulation combined with video games would have a significant impact on brain function. While that turned out to be a bust, what the researchers discovered was that playing video games all on their own provided a cognitive boost in terms of memory, 3D spacial understanding, and response time. However, the most interesting thing to come out of the study was the realization that those who had played games in their childhood carried these benefits into adulthood, regardless of whether they actively continued playing games.

The study compared a group of adult participants who had never played games as children versus those who had. The study recorded a baseline of the participants' cognitive skills, and then tasked both groups with playing Super Mario 64 for 1.5 hours daily for ten days. Then, cognitive skill was measured again immediately following this period, and then again 15 days later with no further video game exposure during that time. The particular test game was chosen due to Super Mario 64 being shown to increase brain gray matter in prior studies.

The results were fascinating. At the start, the participants who hadn't gamed as children scored lower on the cognitive tests than those who had gamed. However, they quickly caught up; both groups had similar scores following the on-hands gaming training. In other words, actively playing games provided a boost to those who had never gamed before, whereas those who had gamed as children apparently never lost this benefit.

Given that this was not the original intention of the study, there are still a lot of questions to be answered. For example, it remains unclear if gaming as an adult can provide lasting benefits, or if perhaps it requires the brain to still be growing and developing in one's youth in order for playing games to have a permanent, lasting effect. Furthermore, it's unknown if this boost in cognitive function has any impact on the players' lives outside of video games. What is clear, though, is that playing video games as a child clearly didn't 'rot the brains' of the players, but actually made them stronger, all the way through adulthood.
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