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More than 164 million Americans play video games with computers, smartphones, mobile devices, and gaming consoles.[4] Gamers aren’t just kids. About 21 percent of gamers in the United States are over the age of 50.[4] With a wide variety of exciting choices and easy accessibility, gaming is a common pastime. With increasing rates of digital injuries, psychologist and GKIS founder Dr. Tracy Bennett saw the need to educate tweens and teens about social media in a fun and engaging way. To help, she created the GKIS Social Media Readiness Course. She also created the GKIS Screen Safety Toolkit for parents to be able to filter, monitor, and manage their kid’s screen activity. Today’s GKIS article discusses grey matter differences found in video gamers.

The Risks of Video Gaming

Excessive use of violent video games can be harmful. Dr. Tracy Bennett’s book  Screen Time in the Mean Time: A Parenting Guide to Get Kids and Teens Internet Safe, suggests young children should be allowed the opportunity to socialize in real-life school and groups first before allowing age-appropriate video games, smartphones, and social media.[8]

Video game ratings are also important to follow. Children have immature nervous systems. Exposure to violent video games has been demonstrated in psychology research to increase violence, decrease prosocial behaviors, and be over-stimulating – leading to tantrums, anxiety, and defiance.[8] Playing violent or sexualized video games can also spark child curiosity for other unsafe online activities.

The Benefits of Gaming

Playing video games can also be beneficial for kids. Benefits detailed in Screen Time in the Mean Time include:

  • improvements in visual-spatial capabilities, reaction times, attention span, the ability to process multiple target objects, and detail orientation
  • improved visual short-term memory, mental rotation, tracking, and toggling between tasks
  • helping with anxiety, relaxation, and mood 
  • improving problem-solving, strategy building, goal setting, and cooperation with others
  • vocational applicability and can be customized for specific tasks, such as orienting and motivating employees, providing health care benefits like exercise or illness care, and teaching specialized skills like performing surgery or sporting ability
  • competition in profitable e-sport tournaments
  • and opportunity for increased confidence, social connection and networking, and self-esteem, especially for players isolated by geographic remoteness or physical or mental disability.[8]

Video Gaming Impact on Brain Structure

Some video gamers also demonstrate changes in brain function and structure. In a 2011 study conducted at Charité University of Medicine, researchers examined the brain volume of 14-year-old video gamers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).[1]  fMRI’s measure the small changes in blood flow that occur with brain activity.[9] fMRI’s are used to examine a brain’s functional anatomy, for example when determining which brain areas are handling critical functions.[9]  

Grey matter refers to the brain tissue that makes up 40% of the brain and plays a significant role in normal human functioning.[5] Grey matter helps us retain memories, control movements, process rewards, and regulate emotions, among other functions.[5] 

In the 2011 study, researchers found that frequent video game players had a larger volume of grey matter than infrequent video game players.[1] The higher grey matter volume in the ventral striatum area may have helped subjects with faster decision-making and higher brain activity during a rewarding task.[1]

The researchers cautioned that this doesn’t mean video games necessarily increase grey matter. Instead, larger grey matter volume may lead to more video gaming. For example, video gamers with higher grey matter volumes may experience gaming as more rewarding. The reward from play may make learning a habit, skill, or quality easier, leading to even more rewards from playing video games.[1] Notably, other studies by Chinese and Australian researchers have also found that gamers have more grey matter and better brain connectivity.[3] 

These research study conclusions appear to be consistent with what is described as neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change or adapt over time by creating new neurons and building new networks).[6] Consistently,  other studies have found that some games can improve the health of senior players diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.[4] 

What Parents Can Do

With ever-evolving video game platforms, psychologist Dr. Tracy Bennett has seen the devastating effects of digital injuries on children and their families firsthand. To help prevent digital injury, she created several online courses like the GKIS Screen Safety Toolkit for parents of kids of all ages, the GKIS Connected Family Course for parents with children of elementary school age, and the GKIS Social Media Readiness Training for tweens and teens. 

She also offers private personal Coaching and Workshops to parents who have more questions or looking for additional help tailored for their unique child.

Thanks to CSUCI intern Janette Jimenez for researching Grey Matter Differences Found Among Video Gamers

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe. 

Onward to More Awesome Parenting, 

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

Works Cited

[1]Kühn, S., Romanowski, A., Schilling, C., Lorenz, R., Mörsen, C., Seiferth, N., Banaschewski, T., Barbot, A., Barker, G. J., Büchel, C., Conrod, P. J., Dalley, J. W., Flor, H., Garavan, H., Ittermann, B., Mann, K., Martinot, J-L., Paus, T., Rietschel, M., & Smolka, M. N. (2011). The neural basis of video gaming. Translational Psychiatry. 1(11), 53–53. https://doi.org/10.1038/tp.2011.53

[2] Hilpert, A., & Moynihan, Q. (2020). Playing video games may increase your brain’s gray matter and improve how it communicates. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/video-games-may-increase-your-brains-gray-matter-2018-12#:~:text=Gaming%20could%20possibly%20increase%20the

[3] Crew, B. (2018). Gamers Have More Grey Matter And Better Brain Connectivity, Research Suggests. ScienceAlert. https://www.sciencealert.com/gamers-have-more-grey-matter-and-better-brain-connectivity-study-suggests-2018

[4] LaSane, A. (2019). These video games can help mature gamers unwind — and increase their gray matter. Big Think. https://bigthink.com/health/video-games-for-older-players/

[5] Guy-Evans, O. (2021). Grey Matter in the Brain. SimplyPsychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/what-is-grey-matter-in-the-brain.html

[6] Psychology Today. (n.d.). Neuroplasticity. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/neuroplasticity

[7] Teh, C. (2021). Neuroplasticity and Video Games. The Scientific Teen. https://www.thescientificteen.org/post/neuroplasticity-and-video-games#:~:text=Video%20games%20rewire%20the%20brain

[8]  Bennett, T. (2019). Screen time in the meantime: A parenting guide to get kids and teens internet safe. GetKidsInternetSafe Books. https://getkidsinternetsafe.com/parenting-guide/

[9] RadiologyInfo.org. (2020). Functional MRI (fMRI). Radiologyinfo.org. https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info/fmribrain#:~:text=Functional%20magnetic%20resonance%20imaging%20(fMRI,that%20occur%20with%20brain%20activity.


Photo Credits

[1] Photo by Florian Olivo (https://unsplash.com/photos/Mf23RF8xArY?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink)

[2] Photo by Alex Haney (https://unsplash.com/photos/lfQyS-TnqEg?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink)

[3] Photo by National Cancer Institute (https://unsplash.com/photos/kCXvthZgtvA?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink)

[4] Photo by Liv Bruce (https://unsplash.com/photos/odIhQypCuUk?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink)