Gaming skills linked to brain size

It appears the title of the game Big Brain Academy might not just be a marketing tool. A study in a medical journal reports that the size of some sections of the brain can affect your ability to play video games.

The study in Cerebral Cortex, used a test group of 29 men and 10 women with little experience of video games. They were then asked to play a specially created game, Space Fortress. From the screenshot it doesn’t appear likely to be the next Xbox or PS3 hit, but it was intentionally designed to test two distinct skills: playing the game as a whole with the intention of getting the highest score, and quickly switching priorities between different elements of the game.

The researchers then used MRI scans to look at three sections of the brain: the caudate nucleus and putamen (which deal with motor skills and multitasking) and the nucleus accumbens (which responds to reward and punishment).

The results largely met expectations: those with a nucleus accumbens were better at getting to grips with the game as a whole (as they responded well to success) and those with a larger caudate nucleus and putamen were better when it came to switching from priority to priority.

The results led the researchers to conclude that around 25 per cent of the difference in performance on a game can be predicted based on the size of the relevant brain sections. Previous studies have shown experienced gamers outperform casual or non-players at certain mental tasks. The new research suggests this may be down to a natural ability rather than the skills being developed by gaming.

The BBC notes that there is still some uncertainty over how brain size affects intelligence. While the two appear to be linked, it isn’t necessarily consistent across species: hence a monkey can have more intelligence than a horse. What does appear more reliable is that the size of individual sections of the brain is linked to ability at particular neural skills.

The goal now is to see whether the results of the video game study can be applied to educational ability in general. They could also be used to study the causes and treatment of neurological disorders.

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