Today's children are growing very different brains because of their interaction with technology. Baveller et al. review work showing that video games designed to be reasonably mindless result in widespread enhancements of various abilities, acting as exemplary learning tools. In another recent paper, Green et al. show that action video games improve probabilistic inference, which provides a general mechanism for why action video game playing enhances performance in a wide variety of tasks. The Baveller review notes that “Good” things can be bad and “Bad” things can be good. The best current research suggests that “baby DVDs,” or media designed to enhance the cognitive capabilities of infants and toddlers produce no changes in cognitive development. Playing violent action video games, where avatars run about elaborate landscapes while eliminating enemies with well-placed shots, turns out to enhance vision, attention, cognition, and motor control.
For instance, action video game experience heightens the ability to view small details in cluttered scenes and to perceive dim signals, such as would be present when driving in fog. Avid players display enhanced top-down control of attention and choose among different options more rapidly. They also exhibit better visual short-term memory, and can more flexibility switch from one task to another.Work is beginning to show how the brain is altered by learning games.
The contrast between the widespread benefits observed after playing action video games and the limited value of training on “mini brain games” suggests that we may need to drastically rethink how educational games should be structured. While action game developers intuitively value emotional content, arousing experiences, and richly structured scenarios, educational games have until now, for the most part, shied away from these attractive features that video games offer. Instead, educational games have mostly exploited the interactivity and the repetitive nature of practice-makes-perfect that computer-based games can afford—often reducing the experience to automated flashcards.
A recent seminal study compared the impact of playing a grapheme-to-phoneme game versus a mathematics game in 6- to7-year-olds on the maturation of the visual word form area (VWFA), a brain area important in mediating literacy. As assessed by functional magnetic resonance imaging, the group trained with the phoneme-to-grapheme game showed greater maturation of the VWFA than the control group, suggesting direct involvement of the VWFA in the acquisition of reading skills...Experimental trainees demonstrated significant brain changes from pre- to post-test compared with the control group, but with no significant behavioral improvement differences. Thus, brain-imaging studies may provide a more sensitive assay of the effects of technology than do behavioral studies.