For two weeks, researchers asked 69 novice gamers to devote a
half-hour daily to playing either the two-dimensional “Angry Birds”
game, “Super Mario 3D World,” or nothing at all. Based on tests
taken at the start and end of the experiment, only the 3D players
had memory improvements, the study found.
“The 3D games have a lot going for them that the 2D ones don’t,”
study co-author Craig Stark, a neurobiologist at the University of
California, Irvine, said by email.
“There’s the issue of perspective, the amount of spatial information
in there, the `self’ or `immersive’ aspect of them – you feel like
you’re in there – or just the total amount of stuff you can
incidentally learn,” Stark added. “When the viewpoint is relatively
static, in a 2D game, you don’t get exposed to nearly as many
While the study wasn’t designed to show how 3D video games might
improve memory, it’s possible playing these games stimulated the
hippocampus region of the brain, Stark and co-author Gregory
Clemson, also of U.C. Irvine, note in the Journal of Neuroscience.
To see how the type of game might impact cognition, the researchers
recruited people 18 to 22 years old who claimed not to have prior
experience with the games and asked them to play in a testing
facility each weekday for a total of 10 days.
Before and after the two-week period, the participants took memory
tests that engaged the brain’s hippocampus, the region associated
with complex learning and memory.
They were given a series of pictures of everyday objects to study.
Then, they were shown images of the same objects, new ones and
others that differed only slightly from the original items and asked
to categorize them.
Recognition of the slightly altered objects requires the
hippocampus, Stark said.
The 12 percent improvement seen with the test scores for 3D gamers
is roughly the same amount that memory tends to decline between the
ages of 45 and 70, the researchers note.
Beyond the small size of the study, other limitations include the
potential for variation in complexity in the two games, rather than
just the 2D versus 3D format, to explain at least some of the
differences in memory test performance after playing, the authors
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It’s also possible that the tests done in young people might not
yield the same results in older players, or that inexperienced
players might not have the same results as seasoned gamers, noted
Dr. Adam Gazzaley, a neurology researcher at the University of
California, San Francisco who wasn’t involved in the study.
“It is likely that the largest effects will be for novices and
especially those that are suffering deficits in cognition,” Gazzaley
said by email. “But, continued benefits may take place if the game
continues to engage the player at a high level as they continue to
There’s at least a potential, though, that if more research confirms
and explains the findings, 3D video games might benefit older adults
suffering from memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
“If findings such as these are confirmed and extended, this could
open the door to exploring a role for using 3D games clinically for
patients with memory problems,” said Dr. Brian Primack, Director of
the Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health at the
University of Pittsburgh.
But gaming probably isn’t a panacea for improving memory, Primack,
who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.
“There are many things that have been shown to improve outcomes such
as quality of life among people with memory impairment – these
include having plenty of social experiences in person with others
and engaging in regular physical activity,” Primack said. “It would
be a shame to push 3D gaming to the point of inadvertently
negatively impacting these evidence-based treatments.”
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1OcXwUH Journal of Neuroscience, online
December 9, 2015.
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