October 26, 2020

If you are a ‘gamer’, your brain is changing | Culture


Every man, or woman, can be, if proposed, a sculptor of his own brain. The maxim is by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, and is brought up by the expert researcher in cognitive neuroscience Diego Redolar Ripoll in a crowded conference room. He wants to imply that everything we do modifies the way we think and that the brain never stops learning, given its plasticity. So, habits like, and here is your object of study, to play video games, they can propel certain latent abilities that we would not otherwise propel. Is it good, then, to play video games? “It depends on what kind of video games,” says Redolar.

The year 2005, Nintendo renewed the market for portable consoles with Nintendo DS, the laptop that replaced the old Game Boy. During its launch, the promotion was not limited to the little ones but tried to convince their new potential players – parents and grandparents of the incipient or already gamers– how beneficial it could be to play, although what they offered was not a game proper, but exercises of digital aspect with which to keep the brain active in adulthood. We are talking about games like today obsolete Brain Training Is Redolar referring to these types of games? “No, we mean action games,” replies the neuroscientist.

“Action video games or platforms, with 3D environments, facilitate attention, perception and spatial cognition and executive functions,” says the researcher. That is, video games often more mistreated by the media, how Grand Theft Autoor Call of dutyeven resident Evil, any video game in which there is an endangered presence on the screen, is activating and developing parts of the brain that can be useful on a daily basis. The danger does not have to be violent. Platform video games like Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong or Rayman, produce the same effect. Some and others, “modify the function and structure of the nervous system,” says Redolar.

Before the auditorium of the Center of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB), the researcher presented, in a conference that is part of the cycle attached to the exhibition Gameplay, how this type of videogames propitiate selective and sustained attention, and increase the speed of information processing, making us more efficient in the control of attention, how we increase our visospatial skills – among them, memory – and, in general, they promote our adaptability – what is known as fluid intelligence – and the development of our executive functions – everything that leads us to plan the achievement of an objective, be it dressing, or working at NASA -.

What they are studying in their laboratory now is whether even more marked improvements can be made using certain techniques, and the answer is yes, provided that the subjects have played video games before the age of 14. “In the same way that a four-year-old child will be able to learn a second language and develop a perfect accent, thanks to the plasticity of the brain at that age, someone who has played video games before age 14 will have more ease in developing certain skills. if we stimulate their neurons than those who have not. Even if they have to play in adulthood, ”explains Redolar, who nevertheless does not hide that all this also has a dark side.

Image of 'Mario 64', one of the games used by Redolar in his studies.


Image of ‘Mario 64’, one of the games used by Redolar in his studies.

“Video games activate what we call the nervous substrate of the reinforcement, something that also activates coffee, alcohol, or sex. And they do it because we like them. That carries a danger, that of addiction. You can’t stop doing other things to play. When it does, all the benefits we talked about are over. The brain produces new neurons every day. But its level of production changes based on our habits. If we do sports, it increases, if we are stressed, it decreases. A healthy child needs to sleep, exercise, a healthy diet and socialize, and to that must be added the cognitive training that video games can provide you, ”says the expert.

The data, he says, is still not alarming in Spain, but in countries like the United States or China, where there is a high percentage of video game addicts. “Of course, when we talk about cognitive training, video games are one of the tools we can use. There are others. Like simple game, reading, puzzles, or even music. It has been shown that children who make music develop their mathematical abilities better, because somehow mathematics and music are related in our brain, ”he says. In any case, the brain, as Norman Doidge said, who also quotes Redolar, is not a rigid organ, and “survives a changing world, changing itself.”

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