Strategy-Based Video Games, Like Starcraft, Improve Brain's 'Cognitive Flexibility'

Video Games Are Good For Your Brain. Really.
four way video game controller...
four way video game controller...

Strategy-based video games are good for your brain.

Research published in the journal PLOS ONE shows that gamers may benefit from their hobby because it seems to improve brain agility.

"Our paper shows that cognitive flexibility, a cornerstone of human intelligence, is not a static trait but can be trained and improved using fun learning tools like gaming," study researcher Dr. Brian Glass, of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London, said in a release.

The study, conducted by Queen Mary and University College London researchers, is based on psychological tests conducted before and after 72 volunteers played the strategy game StarCraft or the life-simulation game The Sims for 40 hours over six to eight weeks. Most of the participants were female, as "the study was unable to recruit a sufficient number of male volunteers who played video games for less than two hours a week," the release stated.

Researchers found that the participants assigned to play StarCraft experienced gains in their performance on the psychological tests after the study period. They had greater speed and accuracy in cognitive flexibility tasks -- which were meant to assess the ability of a person to "switch" from one task to another -- than those who played The Sims.

Plus, researchers found that "the volunteers who played the most complex version of the video game performed the best in the post-game psychological tests," Glass said in the statement. "We need to understand now what exactly about these games is leading to these changes, and whether these cognitive boosts are permanent or if they dwindle over time. Once we have that understanding, it could become possible to develop clinical interventions for symptoms related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or traumatic brain injuries, for example."

Video games have been shown to provide brain benefits in other studies, too. Previously, a study in the journal Current Biology showed that action games could help kids with dyslexia. Researchers from the University of Padua found that playing an action game seemed to improve speed and accuracy of reading skills among children with dyslexia, compared with playing a calmer game. And scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that high-school gamers did better at virtual surgery than even medical residents.

Of course, games like StarCraft have been fingered in the past for playing a potential role in promoting violent tendencies. Adam Lanza, the Newtown, Conn., shooter, supposedly was a StarCraft player, for instance. And according to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll, more than half of people in the U.S. think there's some kind of link between gun violence and playing violent video games. However, the research proving such is still murky, HuffPost Science reported. And Paul Tassi, a contributor to Forbes magazine, explained why he believes StarCraft in particular isn't as violent as some may believe:

Starcraft, for those who don’t know, is a top-down strategy game. Unlike titles like Halo or Call of Duty which have players aiming down the barrel of a gun, in strategy games you control entire massive armies at once from on high. There’s violence, as tends to happen in war, but you’re so far removed from the action, the blood onscreen is mere pixels. In Starcraft’s case, the game requires constant planning and fast-shifting strategic play. It’s not a twitch reflex shooter, or anything close to it.

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