Due to the great popularity of computer games, scientists are increasingly turning to the topic of how video games affect a person’s cognitive abilities. It is known, in particular, that games in the genre of action improve brain performance in various areas, including visual attention, visual short-term memory, organizing function and procedural learning abilities. As a result, first-person and third-person shooters, such as Call of Duty, are now recommended for children , adults and older people for brain training, namely for developing certain abilities, such as visual attention.
There have been theories that video games affect the gray matter in the hippocampus, an important brain area that is involved in the formation of emotions, memory consolidation (that is, the transition from short-term to long-term memory) and generates a theta rhythm while maintaining attention. The hippocampus plays an important role in the work of the brain throughout human life.
- Spatial learning (spatial learning) depends on the gray matter in the hippocampus, when a person remembers the relationship between objects in the surrounding space. An alternative orientation strategy in space is behavioral learning (response learning), in which the caudate nucleus is activated , and navigation is carried out by memorizing a series of actions, starting from the starting point. It is important that people who are prone to behavioral learning,have less gray matter in the hippocampus than people with a tendency to spatial learning.
Memory systems in the hippocampus and caudate nucleus contribute to optimal task performance. For example, the hippocampus is directly involved in spatial navigation, episodic memory and stress management. On the other hand, the striatum with the caudate nucleus is more involved in the formation of habits and procedural memory with the training of skills to bypass consciousness (for example, cycling).
- Recent studies in humans and rats have shown that the amount of gray matter in the hippocampus is inversely proportional to the amount of gray matter in the caudate nucleus. The functional activity of these two areas of the brain also has an inverse relationship in the process of navigation. That is, if one of these two areas is more involved, the second is less involved. Moreover, if you constantly actively use one of the structures (for example, the caudate nucleus to teach different skills to bypass consciousness), then there is a real risk of atrophy of the hippocampus. And this is serious, given the importance of the hippocampus throughout a person’s life. It is known that a low level of gray matter in the hippocampus is a risk factor for the development of a number of neuropsychiatric diseases, that is, mental diseases.
Some scientists believe that it is important to maintain a balance between the activity of the hippocampus and the caudate nucleus. It is known that some factors – stress, routine, reward – stimulate the activity strategy of the caudate nucleus, which is why the hippocampus suffers. The question is how video games affect the amount of gray matter in the hippocampus.
The research results are controversial. In general, there was no difference between the groups in the amount of gray matter of the hippocampus. But for those people who preferred behavioral strategies, after playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 there was a significant decrease in the amount of gray matter in the right hippocampus. In contrast, people with spatial learning strategies experienced an increase in the amount of gray matter in the left hippocampus.