Get ready to say "In your face!" To anyone who has told you that video games could rot your brain. Researchers at the University of Montreal published a study on Wednesday on the effectiveness of two different methods to keep the aged brain sharp. People aged 55 to 75 years were divided into three groups, two of which were learning piano for the first time or playing Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy for at least thirty minutes in five or more days a week for six months, and another group that does not learn any tasks. Then, the researchers monitored the subjects' gray matter in the hippocampus, cerebellum, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC).
Older people who did not do any of the tasks "showed a significant loss of gray matter" in all three areas of the brain. Meanwhile, the piano group and the video game group experienced gray matter growth in the cerebellum. The bad news? Learning to play the piano did not show many benefits for the hippocampus of the patients, and the video games did not seem to benefit the DLPFC. The good news? Playing video games seems to be amazing for an older person's hippocampus, an area of the brain that is particularly important for our memory functions. The maintenance and growth of the gray matter in the hippocampus can help prevent mental deterioration related to memory loss (for example, Alzheimer's disease).
It is not yet clear if the benefits were specific to video games that require memorizing three-dimensional maps, since both games studied do, or if this would work with other games. It should also be borne in mind that the study was conducted in an extremely small sample size (only eight video game players, twelve pianists and thirteen members of the control group). So, before you pressure your grandmother to make friends and influence the penguins, you may wait until more research is done. Maybe we can get Bill Gates to pay for it.
(Through PLOS ONE and Inverse)