The brain can be affected by just 1 hour of playing video games, according to new research published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
The study — which was conducted by scientists from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu — found that participants who spent 1 hour playing the video game League of Legends experienced changes in brain activity.
The participants also demonstrated improved ability to focus on relevant information while screening out distractions.
The researchers recruited 29 male students to participate in the study. One group had at least 2 years of playing action video games and the other group had fewer than 6 months of experience playing these video games.
The group with the most experience, or the “experts,” were ranked in the top 7 percent of League of Legends players. The “non-experts,” meanwhile, were ranked in the bottom 11 percent.
The players’ “visual selective attention” was assessed by the researchers before and after playing League of Legends.
Visual selective attention is how scientists refer to the brain’s ability to focus while simultaneously disregarding less relevant information.
Focusing on relevant information in this way uses up brain power, so scientists tend to believe that people who are very good at focusing their attention while filtering out distractions show a very efficient use of their brains.
The study authors measured visual selective attention with a test involving squares that flashed on different parts of a computer screen.
First, participants were briefly shown a square in the center of the screen, which was followed by a square flashing elsewhere on the screen. The participants had to then tell the scientists where on the screen the second square was, relative to the first square.
The participants’ brain activity was also monitored during the visual selective attention test using an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine.
Before playing the video game, the expert participants were found to have stronger visual selective attention than the non-experts, and their EEG results showed more attention-related brain activity.
After playing League of Legends for 1 hour, both groups demonstrated improved visual selective attention, even reporting similar scores in the post-game test.
Not only that, but the researchers found that the brain activity of the non-experts increased after playing the game, to the extent that levels of brain activity between experts and non-experts were now comparable.
Although the findings demonstrate a measurable increase in both brain activity and visual selective attention scores in participants after playing a video game for 1 hour, the authors explain that their findings do not tell us about how long these effects might last. They therefore suggest that more studies are needed in this regard.
It is worth noting, as well, that this study was conducted in a very small group of participants — just 29 men — so its results should be interpreted with caution.
Some previous studies have also found that action video games such as Halo and Call of Duty may improve visual attention.
A 2010 review of the available research, for example, suggested that playing video games may be beneficial for improving focus in military training and education.
As Bjorn Hubert-Wallander, the lead author of that review, explained, “Visual attention is crucial to preventing sensory overload, since the brain is constantly faced with an overwhelming amount of visual information.”
“It’s an ability,” he said, “that is especially emphasized during visually demanding activities such as driving a car or searching for a friend’s face in a crowd, so it is not surprising that scientists have long been interested in ways to modify, extend, and enhance the different facets of visual attention.”