Do a favour to your hippocampus, play Birdy Party!

Known for improving your visual acuity or your short-term memory, some video games may have a negative counterpart on your cognitive system. Surprisingly, a new study shows that games that make the player look around and search for solutions, such as platformers or puzzle games (like Birdy Party, what a coincidence!), improve a particular zone of our brain, while FPSs do the opposite. The consequences of playing these shooters games may go as far as depression, schizophrenia or even Alzheimer.

We call it the hippocampus. This specific zone of our brain has a central role in our memory and spatial navigation. It also hosts episodic memory, which allows us to rethink of past events. A primordial zone indeed, which contributes globally to the wellness of our brain.

However, first person shooters game (like Call of duty or Battlefield) players may have lower sizes of the hippocampus than the average. These are the conclusions published the 8 august of this year in the journal “Molecular psychiatry” by a team of Canadian researchers in the university of Montreal.

More visual memory, less spatial memory

Scientists have compared with neuro-imagery the brains of 51 men and 46 women which had to play for 90 hours different types of videogames. And the consequences whether the type of game they played were radically opposed: 85% of shooters players have seen their hippocampus decrease in size. But every 3D platformer (like Super Mario 64 or Spyro the Dragon) player has seen his hippocampus increase in size after 90 hours of playing.

Hippocampus vs striatum

Why Super Mario and Call of Duty have such different effects on our hippocampus? The answer lies with the ways we use our brains to “navigate” in the real or virtual world. Cab drivers in London have the largest hippocampus. But in video-games, a different kind of players prefer to use another zone of our brain, the striatum, which allows us to memorize paths to take. Thus leading the hippocampus to standby mode and making it shrink.

However, if you are ever trapped in a labyrinth, it is your striatum that will help you get out. Ignoring decorative elements and spatial memory, FPS players are better at remembering sequences of right turns / left turns they encounter.

VR may be the “coup de grace” given to your hippocampus

As we already said, a weakened hippocampus may lead to several cases of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or Alzheimer as it is showed in this Harvard psychological study.

This phenomenon may be accentuated with the forthcoming of the virtual reality. With the release of the first telekinesis VR game, connected directly to your brain, the hippocampus may once more be affected.

A test, carried out on rats, placed in a virtual reality environment, showed that 60% of the rats’ hippocampus became inactive. The 40% remaining, acting in a confused way.

The conclusions of this study aren’t of course transposable to Man, but they remind us of the need to conduct more research on this subject. VR will probably experiment the same burlesque demonization that video-games once faced.

While mankind won’t weep over the disparition of sea hippocampus. We can’t be sure about the disappearing of our cerebral hippocampus.

Brain hippocampus named after the similarity of its shape with a sea hippocampus

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