Playing 3-D Video Games Can Boost Memory

News ID: 939513 Service: Science
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TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Neurobiologists found that playing three-dimensional video games -besides being lots of fun- can boost the formation of memories.

Along with adding to the trove of research that shows these games can improve eye-hand coordination and reaction time, this finding shows the potential for novel virtual approaches to helping people who lose memory as they age or suffer from dementia.

Study results, carried out by University of California neurobiologists, appeared on December 9 in The Journal of Neuroscience.

For their research, Craig Stark and Dane Clemenson of UCI's Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory recruited non-gamer college students to play either a video game with a passive, two-dimensional environment ("Angry Birds") or one with an intricate, 3-D setting ("Super Mario 3D World") for 30 minutes per day over two weeks.

Before and after the two-week period, the students 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 slightly from the original items and asked to categorize them. Recognition of the slightly altered images requires the hippocampus, Stark said, and his earlier research had demonstrated that the ability to do this clearly declines with age. This is a large part of why it's so difficult to learn new names or remember where you put your keys as you get older.

Students playing the 3-D video game improved their scores on the memory test, while the 2-D gamers did not. The boost was not small either. Memory performance increased by about 12 percent, the same amount it normally decreases between the ages of 45 and 70.

The next step for the researchers is to determine if environmental enrichment -either through 3-D video games or real-world exploration experiences- can reverse the hippocampal-dependent cognitive deficits present in older populations. This effort is funded by a $300,000 Dana Foundation grant.

"Can we use this video game approach to help improve hippocampus functioning?" Stark asked. "It's often suggested that an active, engaged lifestyle can be a real factor in stemming cognitive aging. While we can't all travel the world on vacation, we can do many other things to keep us cognitively engaged and active. Video games may be a nice, viable route."

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