It has become commonplace to associate video games with numerous harmful effects on the brain of players. Many terms are used to describe excessive use of video games or the Internet: cyberaddiction, hyperconnectivity, problematic practice, excessive, compulsive, pathological, etc…
However, research has shown that moderate gaming behavior that does not impact other activities of daily life can be beneficial. The benefits of video games can be seen on many levels, including cognitive, emotional, motivational and social.
In general, video games stimulate brain activity, eventhough this topic has its own frontiers in human neuroscience. According to a recent study from the University of Arkansas, after just one hour of play, gamers, whether "experts" or not, experience an increase in attention and an ability to focus more easily, while ignoring surrounding distractions.
Let's see what the links are between the practice of gaming and the concentration of players.
The effects of video games on the brain are comparable to those observed when reading a book: the brain stimulation is optimal because the person playing the game is in a state of "focus" and is little affected by external distractions. Our brain is therefore more alert and the activation of certain brain areas increases.
Researchers have discovered that video games (like reading) activate several areas of the brain:
Regular video game playing significantly increases the activity of these brain areas. The first two areas are associated with the ability to put things into perspective and the ability to understand a story.
Some of these connections in the third area are effective in the long term, suggesting a potential mechanism for what is called "embodied cognition" - specialized areas of the brain linking the meaning of a word with the sensory motor area associated with the meaning of the word: for example, the concept of "jumping" would be represented in the motor areas controlling the action of jumping.
Just as the visualization of a movement that we analyze during a sports game can help us to better perform this movement "in real life" later on thanks to the activation of these same neurons, playing video games could transport us into the skin of the protagonist of the story and leave traces in our brain as if we had also been a protagonist of the story.
These neuronal changes suggest that regular video game playing would allow us to identify with the characters we play, which improves our theory of mind and therefore our concentration.
From a cognitive point of view, video games are said to increase problem solving and attention capacities, and are also associated with great creativity.
The development of memory and logic is generally increased when these two are solicited: this is the case when playing.
Have you ever been in a gaming session where you had to use your brain and common sense to get to the next level?
It is in these situations that the areas of your brain associated with logic and memory come into play, and work harder than usual (much like a math problem). Your decision-making, organization and reasoning skills are extremely busy as you are trying to get through the game in question.
These different abilities are directly correlated to concentration. According to numerous published studies, a person confronted with a tedious task will only remain concentrated for a maximum of 30 minutes.
However, playing a certain type of game is for the most part a pleasure, even a passion, and thus increases cognitive abilities.
When a player gets stuck in the middle of an adventure, it is not really seen as a problem, but rather as a puzzle that leads to a real reward. A player's concentration is improved when it is dedicated to something pleasant.
Good concentration is always accompanied by good visual attention.
Good news: researchers from the University of Rochester (USA) have demonstrated that playing certain video games significantly improves visual acuity. After playing action video games such as Call of Duty for one hour a day for a month, non expert gamers volunteers improved their ability to distinguish letters in a complex image by 20%.
This is a very common visual test (also called visual selective attention assessment) used during ophthalmological check-ups.
As a result, the volunteers improved their score on the acuity scales.
To confirm this study, scientist Daphne Bavelier conducted an experiment with students who had played little or no video games in the last year before the experiment.
The first group of students who participated in the study played Unreal Tournament, a first-person shooter that requires a high level of visual concentration, for one hour a day over a one-month period.
A second group of students, under exactly the same conditions, played Tetris, a puzzle video game, which is still quite demanding in terms of motor control but visually less complex than Unreal Tournament.
At the time of the results, there was no significant improvement in vision in the Tetris players.
However, students playing Unreal Tournament were able to distinguish small letters lost in the middle of an image with a multitude of details and colors, more easily than at the initial assessment of the experiment and had less attention problems linked to visual selective activity.
This means that concentration and attention skills can be improved after regular playing of video games.
Of course, most of the notable effects such as improved visual acuity or resolution capacity are only true when the video game is played over the long term.
Playing video games has many similarities with reading, which is also an activity associated with attention.
However, we must not neglect the many harmful effects of playing video games too much, even for short periods: your concentration will not be more effective if you spend your whole day playing, because your brain needs to have a horizon and practice different tasks.