Los Angeles | Playing three dimensional video games such as ‘Super Mario’ may boost the formation of memories and maintain cognition as we age, a new study has claimed.
The finding by researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) shows the potential for novel virtual approaches to helping people who lose memory as they age or suffer from dementia.
For their research, Craig Stark and Dane Clemenson of UCI’s Centre for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory recruited non gamer college students to play either a video game with a passive, two dimensional environment (Angry Birds) or one with an intricate, 3-D setting (Super Mario 3D World) for 30 minutes per day over two weeks.
Before and after the two-week period, the students took memory tests that engaged the brain’s hippocampus, the region associated with complex learning and memory. They were given a series of pictures of everyday objects to study.
Then they were shown images of the same objects, new ones and others that differed slightly from the original items and asked to categorise them.
Recognition of the slightly altered images requires the hippocampus, Stark said, and his earlier research had demonstrated that the ability to do this clearly declines with age. This is a large part of why it is so difficult to learn new names or remember where you put your keys as you get older, researchers said.
Students playing the 3-D video game improved their scores on the memory test, while the 2-D gamers did not. The boost was not small either. Memory performance increased by about 12 per cent, the same amount it normally decreases between the ages of 45 and 70.
In previous studies on rodents, Clemenson and others showed that exploring the environment resulted in the growth of new neurons that became entrenched in the hippocampus’ memory circuit and increased neuronal signalling networks.
Stark noted some commonalities between the 3-D game the humans played and the environment the rodents explored qualities lacking in the 2-D game. First, the 3-D games have a few things the 2-D ones do not, he said.
They’ve got a lot more spatial information in there to explore. Second, they’re much more complex, with a lot more information to learn. Either way, we know this kind of learning and memory not only stimulates but requires the hippocampus, said Stark.
Stark added that it is unclear whether the overall amount of information and complexity in the 3-D game or the spatial relationships and exploration is stimulating the hippocampus.
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