Playing video games for hours on end may not be that bad after all. It could perhaps prepare your child to become a skilled surgeon one day.

Playing video games gives one an advantage not only in the games themselves but also in performing other tasks requiring visuomotor skills — connections between visual and motor processes in the brain.

Motor processes are linked with acquiring skills or skilled movements as a result of practice.

Researchers at the Centre for Vision Research at York University in Canada compared a group of young men in their 20s, who had played video games at least four hours a week for the previous three years, to a group of young men without that experience, reports the journal Elsevier’s Cortex.

The subjects were placed in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and asked to complete a series of increasingly difficult visuomotor tasks, such as using a joystick or looking one way while reaching another way, said a York University release.

“By using high resolution brain imaging (fMRI), we were able to actually measure which brain areas were activated at a given time during the experiment,” said Lauren Sergio, associate professor in the Faculty of Health at York University.

“We tested how the skills learned from video game experience can transfer over to new tasks, rather than just looking at brain activity while the subject plays a video game.”

The study found that during the tasks, the less experienced gamers were relying most on the parietal cortex (brain area involved in hand—eye coordination), whereas the experienced gamers showed increased activity in the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain.

Prefrontal cortex is linked with personality expression, decision making and moderating correct social behaviour.

The finding that using visuomotor skills can reorganise how the brain works offers hope for future research into the problems experienced by Alzheimer’s patients, who struggle to complete the simplest visuomotor tasks.

Lead author Joshua Granek added that in future, it would be interesting to study if the brain pattern changes are affected by the type of video games a player has used and the actual total number or hours he has played.

Keywords: video gaming

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